Polio survivor and York, Pa.’s own Vic Wertz: ‘The man who hit the ball Mays caught’

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The York Daily Record tells about native son and major league slugger Vic Wertz’s life and career upon his death in 1983. Here, Wertz holds a photo sequence of his most-noted mark in baseball history. He smashed the 450-foot fly ball that Willie Mays turned into “The Catch” in the 1954 World Series. Background posts: Babe Ruth, indeed, played in York in 1928 and York turned its eyes to Joe DiMaggio and Before the York Revs came the Hanover Raiders.

When York-born major leaguer Vic Wertz did not make the top 10 list of 20th-century York County sports heroes, one fan posed a revealing question:
“How could you leave off Vic Wertz?”
Vic Wertz, indeed, was one of York County’s most accomplished professional athletes.
If his long smash had eluded Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series, he would have been on that York Sunday News’ list.
But Mays’ execution of “The Catch” relegated Vic Wertz to a footnote in national history… .


This headline appeared on Jim Hubley’s column about Wertz at the time of his death: “The man who hit the ball Mays caught.”
Also overlooked are the stats: “The Catch” was Wertz’s only out of the game. He hit two singles, a double and a triple and went 8-for-16 for the series.
So, to preserve his memory in his hometown, here are some long-forgotten details about his life, taken primarily from his obituary story in the York Daily Record on July 8, 1983 (see above):
Wertz was born in 1925, son of Paul I. and Manerva Wertz.
When he died 58 years later during heart surgery, his survivors included his wife, Lucille, and two children from his first marriage to Dallastown native Bernice Wineka.
His baseball career included two moments overshadowed by “The Catch.”
The year after the World Series, he was afflicted with polio but bounced back the next season with 32 home runs, his personal best.
Get that? He recovered from polio to play major league baseball.
And in 1958, he broke his ankle 25 games into the season. That ended his season, but he came back for four more.
After retirement, he lived near Detroit and owned a beer distributorship there.
He gained a spot in the Michigan Hall of Fame, but 266 home runs, 1,692 hits and and .277 batting average never gained the attention of Baseball’s Hall of Fame.
To Hubley, the comeback from polio and a broken ankle were indicative of Vic Wertz:
“Wertz was indeed a fighter,” he wrote.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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