When fans look back at the World Series of the past, most of them focus on the big hits that made a difference, specifically the home runs. But why don’t we focus more on the greatest World Series catches? After all, the best Fall Classic catches ever made played just as big of a role in the series as any hit, perhaps more.
In our humble opinion, some of the top MLB playoff performances of all time have included a player making an amazing catch that changed the course of a game, or perhaps even the entire series. If you’re going to highlight the best hits in World Series history, it’s only fair to highlight the greatest World Series catches that took away what could have been big hits.
Greatest World Series catches
Perhaps the best thing about the greatest World Series catches is that they’re a little rarer than memorable home runs. We had to dig deep into the archives of baseball history to find some of the best Fall Classic catches. But here is a trip down memory lane and a look at the greatest World Series catches in baseball history.
Paul O’Neill, 1996
The Yankees were one out away from taking a 3-2 series lead, although the Braves were one hit away from taking a 3-2 series lead.
With two runners on base, Luis Polonia hit a ball to right-center field that would have scored the winning run if it dropped. But Paul O’Neill ran a long way and caught the ball with his arm fully stretched. It was the final out of the game, allowing the Yankees to close out the series in Game 6.
Willie McGee, 1982
Gorman Thomas thought he had reduced Milwaukee’s deficit to 6-4 with a drive to left-center field. But Willie McGee jumped high enough to catch the ball before it cleared the wall, keeping the score 6-2. It was the second great catch McGee made in that game.
He also provided the offense for the Cardinals with two home runs. St. Louis hung on to win the game 6-2 and won the series in seven games.
Bill Wambsganss, 1920
The catch difficulty for Bill Wambsganss may not have been that high, but he did pull off the only unassisted triple play in World Series history to date.
101 Years Ago Today: Cleveland Indians second baseman Bill Wambsganss turns the first and only unassisted triple play in World Series history! Here's Bill posing with the three Brooklyn Dodgers players he got out! (October 10, 1920) #MLB #Baseball #Postseason pic.twitter.com/rRyzTPuxBd
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) October 10, 2021
That’s over 100 World Series without another player pulling off a similar feat. While playing second base for Cleveland in Game 5, Wambsganss made a nice play on a line drive, stepped on second base, and then tagged the unsuspecting runner who took off from first base. The stakes weren’t all that high, although the best-of-nine series was tied 2-2 at that time. The unassisted triple play helped Cleveland win Game 5 8-1 on the way to winning the series.
Ron Swoboda, 1969
Seaver and the Mets were clinging to a 1-0 lead when Brooks Robinson hit a sharp line drive to right field.
Swoboda ran in and completely laid out to make the catch. Granted, the runner from third was able to score on the play to tie the game. But if the ball got past Swoboda or the Mets didn’t get that out, the Orioles could have potentially taken the lead. Instead, the Mets won the game in the 10th inning on their way to winning the series in five games.
Kirby Puckett, 1991
But earlier in the game, he had one of the greatest World Series catches.
Atlanta’s Ron Gant got a hold of one to left-center field. But Puckett ran it down and jumped high enough to catch it before it smashed off the Metrodome’s Plexiglas wall. While the catch happened in the third inning, that could have been the difference in the game if Puckett hadn’t made the catch, ultimately setting himself up to hit a walk-off homer in the 11th inning.
Dwight Evans, 1975
With a runner on first base, Joe Morgan drove the ball deep to right field. The ball may not have been a home run, but it would have at least been a double.
Evans didn’t quite get there but he jumped and reached out with one arm and was just able to make the catch. Even though his throw to first base was well off target, the runner was doubled off because off the bat, there was almost no way that Evans was going to be able to make the catch.
Al Gionfriddo, 1947
While nursing an 8-5 lead over the Yankees in the sixth inning of Game 6, the Dodgers put Al Gionfriddo into the game for defensive purposes.
It’s a move that paid off big time for Brooklyn. With two runners on base and two outs, Joe DiMaggio smacked a ball to left-center field that the partisan crowd at Yankee Stadium thought would at least score two runs. But Gionfriddo got on his horse and made the catch while up against the chain-link fence that separated the outfield from the bullpen. His catch took the wind out of the stadium with the Dodgers ultimately prevailing to force a Game 7, only for the Yankees to take the decisive game.
Sandy Amoros, 1955
This catch from Sandy Amoros came in Game 7 with the Yankees threatening to score with two runners on and one out in the sixth inning. Yogi Berra popped up a ball that traveled down the left-field foul line.
The runners thought that the ball was going to drop deep in the corner, but Amoros had a beat on it, making the catch by extending his arm as far as possible. He then threw the ball back into the infield to help double up Gill McDougald. The inning ended with the Dodgers still leading 2-0, which ended up being the final score in the decisive game of the franchise’s first World Series title.
Devon White, 1992
In the fourth inning of Game 3, the Braves had two runners on base with nobody out when David Justice cracked a ball deep to center field.
Deion Sanders and Terry Pendleton, who were on base for Atlanta, thought for sure that it would be a hit that would enable them to score. But Devon White was able to make the play before crashing into the wall.
Pendleton was so surprised that he passed Sanders on the bases, so he was automatically out. White got the ball in fast enough to catch Sanders in a run down. Replay later showed that he was out while sliding back into second base, so it should have been a triple play. Nevertheless, it was an incredible catch by White that kept the Braves from scoring in a game that Toronto ultimately won 3-2 on their way to winning the series in six games.
Willie Mays, 1954
This is probably the best defensive play in World Series history and will likely remain that way for a long time to come.
It’s not every catch that has its own Wikipedia page or is known universally as simply “The Catch.”
It’s important to keep in mind that this play took place at the Polo Grounds, which had the most unusual shape for a baseball field imaginable, which is why it was 483 feet to dead center field. As a result, when the ball left the bat of Vic Wertz, Willie Mays had a long way to run, ending up about 440 feet from home plate when he made the miraculous over-the-shoulder catch while still in a full sprint.
He also had the awareness to quickly spin and throw the ball back; otherwise, the runner on second base may have been able to score the go-ahead run. The only detractors for this catch are the fact that it came in Game 1 of a series that the Giants swept. With or without the catch, the Giants probably win the World Series, but you never know. Plus, there just aren’t many outfielders in baseball history who would have had a chance to make that catch.