Sunday, February 5, 2012

The Sunday Funnies

The Polo Grounds, home to the New York Giants for decades and briefly the setting for the foolishness of the early Mets, was a weirdly-shaped yard -- more than 500 feet to straight-away center, barely 250 feet down the lines.

Famous plays resulted from the dimensions of the oval. Willie Mays' over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series was made more than 450 feet from home plate; Bobby Thomson's "Homer Heard 'Round the World" to win the 1951 pennant probably didn't go 300 feet.

Then there's this story, told by Mays biographer Charles Einstein in his book "Willie's Time":

The phrase "That would've been a home run at the Polo Grounds" was often heard in other parks to deride  routine fly balls ... Following a tour the Giants had made in Japan, I served as master of ceremonies at a Giants Booster Club luncheon, and in introducing Mays to the audience I described a play he was said to have made in Tokyo. It seems that with bases loaded, the batter put up a fly ball to center field. The ball was caught up in one of the winds that are sacred to the Japanese, and Mays saw that it was going to carry out of the park. But he also noticed that the exit gate in center field was open. So he raced through the gate and found himself on a tree-lined avenue running away from the ball park. Going in the same direction was a fire engine in the process of answering a call, so Mays hopped aboard. Three blocks farther, he reached up and made the catch. One fireman at the back of the truck turned to another and said, "Home run at the Polo Grounds."

The tale having been told, I presented Mays and sat down while he fielded questions from the audience. Toward the end, one rather unexpected query came up. "About that time you caught the ball while you were riding on the fire engine in Japan," the questioner asked, "did the guy from third score after the catch, or was your throw in time to get him?"

That got a better laugh than the story itself. Mays, however, handled it straight-faced. "I didn't make any throw," he said. "Didn't have to. There was two out at the time."

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