On September 29 in 1954, Willie Mays made one of the greatest and most famous catches in baseball history. During the eighth inning of Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, Cleveland Indians player Vic Wertz hit a drive that centerfielder Mays chased toward the wall of the Polo Grounds to make an over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track.
“The Catch” prevented two runs from scoring in a tie game. Mays’s throw also kept the runners from advancing. And the Giants went on to win the game in the tenth inning. Then, the team completed a sweep of the World Series. The win was the Giants’ last championship in New York.
Mays’s catch and the Series helped cap a great season for Mays. During the year, he hit 41 home runs and led the league with a .345 batting average.
What makes the season even more amazing is that Mays had not played Major League Baseball the previous season or for most of 1952. Mays, who started his professional career in the Negro Leagues, had his rookie year in Major League Baseball in 1951 after a short stint in the Minor Leagues. But in May 1952, the United States Army drafted Mays during the Korean War. He missed most of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season, although he did play some baseball while in the Army.
“Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)”
There is another reason 1954 was a big year for Willie Mays. Early in the season he became a part of one of the greatest baseball songs of all time, “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song).”
When Mays returned from the army, a New York public relations man, Ted Worner, thought it would be a good idea to have a song about the player known as the “Say Hey Kid.” So Worner arranged for columnist Dick Kleiner to write some lyrics and then for Jane Douglass create the music and the chorus.
Epic Records liked the song and gave it to the R&B group The Treniers, but insisting that Mays participate in the recording. Mays agreed, and he ended up adding some dialogue to the song. Quincy Jones produced the recording.
“Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)” did not become a hit that summer, perhaps because it had to compete with at least three other songs about Willie Mays. But like few other baseball songs, “Say Hey” would live on as one of the most popular baseball songs of all time.
Say hey, say who?
That Giants kid is great.
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