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Countdown To Pitchers And Catchers: #23 Vic Wertz

| On 28, Jan 2012

Today continues our countdown to the start of Indians pitchers and catchers reporting to Goodyear, Arizona on February 20. We’ll count down the days, profiling a former Indian who wore the corresponding number. Some players will be memorable, others just our favorites and some, the only one we could find who wore that number. Today, we chronicle the career of Vic Wertz.

By Mike Brandyberry

Despite a 17 year career and 266 home runs, Vic Wertz is known for recording what might be the most famous out in baseball history.

Wertz only played four and a half years of his career for the Tribe. He was acquired by the Indians on June 1, 1954. The Tribe rolled to a record setting, 111 wins that season and were heavy favorites against the New York Giants in the World Series. With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the eighth inning, Larry Doby walked and Al Rosen singled to put runners on first and second with no one out. Wertz strode to the plate.

He hit the pitch to deep centerfield, approximately 420 feet, where the ball would have been a home run giving the Tribe a 5-2 lead. However, the spacious Polo Grounds had a centerfield fence of 450 feet and Willie Mays patrolling. Mays turned his back to the infield and ran down the ball, making an over the shoulder catch and immediately whirling and throwing the ball back to the infield.

Doby, who was on second, could have possibly scored if he tagged up when the ball was caught, but he assumed it was over Mays’ head. Doby had to retreat and retag second before advancing only to third. Rosen never tagged from first base. The next hitter walked, loading the bases, before the final two were retired and the Indians did not score.

The Tribe went on to lose the game and were swept in the Series. The heavily favored Tribe never rebounded from Mays’ catch. They would not return to the World Series until 1995 and Mays’ catch, hit by Wertz, was immortalized in baseball history.

Wertz broke into the big leagues with the Detroit Tigers, where he had some of his best success, in 1947. He played with the Motor City Kitties until he was traded to the St. Louis Browns in 1952. After the organization moved to Baltimore, Wertz was moved to Cleveland in 1954. He was a four time American League All-Star, three with Detroit and another with Cleveland.  He hit 20+ home runs four times with the Tigers, but his career high for a season of 32, came with the Tribe.

After leaving Cleveland, Wertz played two and a half seasons with the Boston Red Sox before returning home to Detroit and retiring from baseball with a short stint in Minnesota. Along with his 266 career home runs, he retired with a .277 batting average and 1178 runs batted in.

Photo: Topps Baseball Cards

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