1954 World Series
This weekend (Jun. 24-26), the Cleveland Indians visit
AT&T Park for a rare three-game series against the San Francisco Giants. As
inter-league matchups go, this one is less than scintillating. But for Giant fans, it
naturally inspires thoughts of the two teams battling in the 1954 World
Cleveland entered the series as heavy favorites after setting an American
League record for most wins in a season (111). "We were supposed to win, hands down,"
remembers Wally Westlake, the Indians journeyman outfielder.
As a veteran former National Leaguer, Westlake knew the Giants were
talented. After 1241 games and 1400 at-bats, the '54 Fall Classic represented his
first—and as it turned out his only—opportunity to play in a World Series.
Fifteen years removed from Christian Brothers High School where he
dominated Sacramento ball fields with his bat and speed, Westlake may have been a step
slower, but he was certainly wiser.
Before the series, Westlake gave a gambler some advice on the betting line.
"They're giving us monster odds. You think we're going to go out there and beat the Giants
and Leo Durocher's ass four straight. If I was a gambler, I'd have to take those odds and put
some money on (the Giants) out there."
The first game was held on September 29 at New York's Polo Grounds. Westlake,
a right-handed hitter, learned he would be sitting on the bench, as Cleveland manager Al Lopez knew
the Giants were starting right-handed pitcher, Sal Maglie. Westlake wasn't surprised or upset. He
had platooned all season, playing in only 85 games, while hitting .263, with 11 home runs and 42
runs batted in.
Even from the bench, Game One was thrilling and entertaining.
This photo of the Polo Grounds shows a view of the
in centerfield nearly 500 feet away from home
In the top of the first, Cleveland struck first when left-handed slugger Vic
Wertz tripled to deep right field, driving in two runs. That blow was a portent of things to
come, and just the first of Wertz' four hits that day.
New York answered in their half of the third, scoring two runs on a fielder's
choice and a single by Hank Thompson (no relation to Giants' 1951 hero, Bobby
With the score tied 2-2 in the top of the eighth, Maglie walked Larry Doby and
gave up a single to Al Rosen, who came into the series with a .300 batting average.
Next up was Wertz, who already had three hits, but who batted a meager .257 for the
season with only 15 home runs. Giants' manager, Leo Durocher, however, had seen enough
and called for relief pitcher Don Liddle.
Westlake believes Durocher was skilled at handling his teams, especially his
ability to create favorable matchups in an era when "platooning" was still in its
infancy. "That Leo Durocher, he may have been a showman, but that guy was a manager,
boy. He was a devil."
When Durocher left the mound, and placed the ball in Liddle's hands, maybe he
knew something no one else did. For Wertz then blasted a ball that has gone down in baseball
As it rocketed toward right center field, Mays sprinted and ran for the ball.
Racing toward the deepest part of the Polo Grounds, and closing in on the center field
bleacher wall, Mays made an over-the-shoulder basket catch, immediately spun and fired the
ball back to the infield. Doby tagged and went to third, but Mays' throw held Rosen at first
base, maintaining the double-play possibility.
This photo of Willie Mays' famous catch in the 1954 World Series was also
snapped from the opposite side by another photographer. To read the story,
Watching from the third base dugout Westlake remembers "I'm looking right down
the slot (toward right center field), and Wertz pounded that thing. We thought it had a
chance to make the bleachers. He hit that ball damn near 500'. And Mays just outran that damn
thing; picked it off," he laughs.
Westlake noted that just as Wertz' ball started to arc (descend), he
noticed "a little bit of a wind blowin' in, just a tad, and I could see the ball start to
lose its momentum," the 90-year-old recalls with detailed clarity. "I'm not trying to
take anything away from Mays; he just outran the ball. That was a helluva catch."
Mays' catch not only quashed Cleveland's scoring opportunity, it came to
be known as one of the classic momentum killers in baseball history. The Giants won the game
in the bottom of the 10th inning on a 3-run homer by Dusty Rhodes pinch
hitting for Monte Irvin.
The next day, Westlake was penciled in to start Game Two in right field as the
Giants were throwing 21-game winner, Johnny Antonelli, a southpaw.
Again, the Indians jumped out to an early lead, as Al Smith led off the game
with a homer to deep left field, giving the Tribe a 1-0 lead. With two outs, and Al Rosen and
Vic Wertz aboard after drawing walks, Westlake singled to center field in his first time up
in the series. Rosen, however, was held at third, loading the bases. The next hitter
George Strickland popped up to first base and the Indians squandered an opportunity to take a
As Westlake ran to his position in right field, he noticed the flags were now
blowing out to the center field bleachers. "That little wind that was blowin' in yesterday is
blowin' out today," he thought to himself. "If Wertz hits that ball today, it's in the
center field bleachers."
And maybe history records a different chapter.
"That was a crazy place to play," Westlake now laughs
about the odd-shaped Polo Grounds. "I don't know how Mays put up the numbers he did in that
In one regular season game, Westlake recalls hitting a line shot off of
Giants' pitcher Larry Jansen, and the ball "sliced and just tucked around the right-field
foul pole into the stands" for a 260-foot home run. Running around the bases, he chuckled to
himself "If I hit the same ball in Pittsburgh (Forbes Field), it would be ten-foot
"And then you can hit 450-foot-homers to center field all day long and you've
got three center fielders tryin' to catch it. Crazy place," Westlake laughs.
The Sacramentan surprises baseball historians when he posits that the '54
Indians were overrated. He notes that Cleveland split their 22-game series with the New York
Yankees and White Sox. Instead, they claimed the pennant by trashing the cellar
dwellers. "It's always been my feeling that if you're a great team, you kick everybody's ass.
And we didn't do that."
That team claimed first place for good on June 12 and never relinquished the
lead. They won the pennant by eight games over the Yankees.
Westlake also theorizes Cleveland peaked too early.
"The Chivas Regal and Early Times stock went up about a hundred points," he
jokes, "as we (Indians) were laughing and having a good time. But the Giants went right
down to the very minute. They came into that series and they were on fire. They jumped on us
like we was home cooking."
After 1954, Westlake played only 29 more games in the major leagues, but still
considers himself fortunate to have a long, satisfying career. "Sometimes this ol' country
boy hick, I have to pinch myself to think that I was fortunate enough that the Good Lord gave
me the tools to give it a shot."
And one fine time in the 1954 Fall Classic.