Friday, October 20, 2006

How great was that very great catch?

Most metropolitanized Metropolitan fans are no doubt licking their wounds. As a Red Sox fan, I promise you that I thirst for the blood of bison now -- I know what it's like to watch a team lose a game even after individual player heroics. Hopefully the enigma wrapped in a riddle that is Oliver Perez will build upon last night.

Let's get down to brass tacks here. How amazing was Endy Chavez's catch? Here's Slate on the snar:
So, when Endy Chávez caught that ball in the sixth inning, I thought of Mays and Hano. I Googled A Day in the Bleachers. I found that Hano is 84 years old, living in California, still watching baseball. I found his phone number and decided to call once the game was over. I was elated. And then the Mets lost the game and lost the series. The catch became known, at least to me, as that catch in the goddamn game where Heilman gave up a home run to Yadier freakin' Molina. Endy Chávez, suddenly, resumed being Endy Chávez.

I called Hano anyway, and he was home. He had watched the game, he said, though macular degeneration makes it harder for him to see the television. A charming man and a brisk talker, Hano tells me how lucky he feels to have witnessed some of baseball's greatest moments. He was at Dodger Stadium when Sandy Koufax threw his first no-hitter. In 1956, he won a limerick contest sponsored by Sears—rhyming "nation" with "sensation," he recalls—and got flown out to the World Series, where he watched Don Larsen throw a perfect game. And, in 1954, he decided to buy a bleacher seat at the Polo Grounds, a seat with a good view of Willie Mays.

So, I ask, what did you think of Endy Chávez's catch in the sixth inning?

"It was a great catch and a wonderful throw at a critical moment," Hano begins. "Unfortunately, it's a catch you see so often that it's almost a stereotype. [Jim] Edmonds makes it and [Mike] Cameron makes it and [Torii] Hunter makes it."

He explains that the great Mays backtracked to the 460-foot mark in the Polo Grounds. "He outran the ball, he caught it with his back to the stands, and he whirled to make the throw." When Chávez caught the ball, Hano says, he was 360 feet from home plate. "I don't want to downgrade this play, it was a marvelous play," he says. "It may be that the stands are a little closer today and therefore you can make that catch."

Besides, Hano adds, the Mets didn't win. "To that degree, there is a considerable difference." The long ball might have lost its romance, but it still wins games. Chávez's catch had already become a historical footnote. Hano and I talk baseball for a few more minutes—the catching Molina brothers, the new stadiums in Pittsburgh and San Diego, the epic badness of this year's National League—and then wish each other well. He will keep his catch, and I'll keep mine.
There is no denying that this catch was special. But Hano raises some interesting points. You see, these home-run robbing catches are now more common because of these home-run conducive ballparks.


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