Man who got Mays' famous glove wants public to see it

April 02, 1992|By John Leptich | John Leptich,Chicago Tribune

One of the most famous pieces of memorabilia in sports history sits in a safe-deposit box in southern Illinois, rather than on display at the baseball Hall of Fame.

The glove Willie Mays used to make what has become known simply as "The Catch," an over-the-shoulder grab of a Vic Wertz drive during the eighth inning of Game 1 of the 1954 World Series on Sept. 29 at the Polo Grounds in New York, has been stored in a Salem, Ill., bank for several years.

The glove's owner, Craig Liddle of Salem, received it from Mays in late 1955 when Liddle was 6 years old. Liddle's father, Don, pitched for the New York Giants during 1954-56. In fact, he was on the mound when Wertz crushed the shot on which Mays made "The Catch."

Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, which was tied 2-2 when Mays made his catch, is also well known for the three-run homer pinch hitter Dusty Rhodes hit in the bottom of the 10th to give the Giants a 5-2 victory. Mays himself has called his catch the turning point of the game; some call it the turning point of the Series, swept by the Giants in four games.

Wertz, who was 4-for-5 in Game 1, was the only batter Liddle faced that day. There were two runners on and two outs when Liddle relieved Sal Maglie. Mays, who walked twice, was 0-for-3 and made one other putout in Game 1.

"Don Liddle has the glove," said Mays when asked about it during a recent sports memorabilia show in Harvey. "I gave it to him. That's about all I remember."

Liddle remembers the incident vividly, but he says he wasn't the glove's recipient.

"My son Craig made a trip with the team from New York to St. Louis, where my parents picked him up so he could go back to school in Mount Carmel," said Liddle, who is retired and still resides in Mount Carmel, Ill. "He and Willie talked on the plane."

Craig Liddle remembers his dad telling him not to keep bothering the two players sitting in front of them, pitcher Ruben Gomez and Mays, Craig's favorite.

"Dad and I started talking about my wanting to start playing ball," said Craig. "I told him he was going to have to buy me a glove. He said he would.

"In the clubhouse at Sportsman's Park the next day, Willie came up to me and said, 'I understand you need a glove to play baseball.' He gave me a glove and said it was the one he used in 1954 and part of 1955, and because he had broken in a new glove and was finally comfortable with it, I could have the old one.

"Willie said, 'You take care of it [the glove], and it will take care of you,' " Liddle added.

Craig Liddle, who admits he didn't take care of the glove at first -- "I played with it a few years and left it in the rain a couple times," he said -- finally put it away when he was about 10 years old after realizing it was a Willie Mays glove. It wasn't until later in life, especially with the incident growing in legend, that Liddle realized he had the glove from "The Catch."

Liddle never played professionally. He played some semipro ball but wound up as a junior high school science teacher in Salem.

His dream is to present the glove, with Mays at his side, to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Liddle hasn't seen Mays since the day he got the glove. But Liddle said curator Ted Spencer told him several years ago the museum won't guarantee that the glove will be on permanent display. Liddle also has tried unsuccessfully to work out a display arrangement with Spalding, the glove's manufacturer.

"The important thing is the glove is seen by the public," Liddle said."It's their glove. I've just been the caretaker all these years. I don't want the Hall of Fame to show the glove for a while and then have it wind up in a warehouse. It belongs with them and out where people will always see it."

Howard C. Talbot Jr., director of the Baseball Hall of Fame, agreed.

"Absolutely we'd like to have something like this," he said. "Mr. Liddle is right in that we can't guarantee it [the glove] will be on display permanently. In most cases, an item like this would be, but if something more important comes in, we might have to take it down.

"We'll do all we can to work something out with Mr. Liddle. This is a stroke of luck for us."

Bill Guilfoile, the Hall's assistant director, spoke Monday with Liddle. Guilfoile says he's hopeful the glove will get to Cooperstown.

"We're going to get something on this to Mr. Liddle in writing," said Guilfoile. "I explained to him that a piece like this glove would probably have a permanent place and only be taken down for cleaning or refurbishing an exhibit. I certainly hope he does decide to donate it."

Collectors don't. Joshua Evans, owner of Leland's, a vintage sports memorabilia dealership in New York, says the glove would command a premium in today's market.

"It's an icon," said Evans. "There would be tremendous demand for it. It would probably bring between $25,000 and $50,000 to start. There never has been a piece so closely associated with a major historical event like this available to the public."

Nor will it be, said Craig Liddle: "I've been offered money for the glove from dealers, but it's not for sale. That's just the way I was brought up. My family and I don't want money for this. I want the glove displayed continuously for the public to see.

"Like I said, that's my dream."

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