Dedicated on April 19, 2013
February 9, 1925 – July 7, 1983
Named in honor of Vic Wertz, who was born in York, Pennsylvania. His family moved to Reading when he was 11 years old and he was a star for the Reading High baseball team as well as State Champion, Gregg Post American Legion. He signed a minor league contract in 1942 and made his Major League debut with the Detroit Tigers on April 15, 1947. During his 17 year Big League career (1947-1963) he also played for the St. Louis Browns, Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. He was a first baseman and outfielder.
Even the most novice of baseball fans has seen the highlight of Willie Mays' over-the-shoulder catch in centerfield of the Polo Grounds in the 1954 World Series. However, few people probably know who hit that ball. Well, it was Reading’s own Vic Wertz. Wertz hit that long fly ball that Mays caught in the 1954 World Series, which is also known as simply, "The Catch", it went over 450 feet to dead center of the Polo Grounds. Afterwards, a sportswriter at the time said, "It would have been a home run in any other park, including Yellowstone."
The unique outfield dimensions here at Vic Wertz Field at the Berks County Youth Recreation Facility certainly are not an exact replica of the old Polo Grounds in New York, but does share some familiar characteristics of the Polo Grounds like the short distances directly down the lines and the abrupt cavern to deep center field. It is for that reason that the field bears the name Vic Wertz Field, honoring the man who arguably hit the longest out in Major League Baseball History.
After he retired from playing, Wertz kept a photo of “The Catch” in his office at his beer distribution company and explained he had no negative feelings about being remembered for hitting a deep fly out.
"I'm very proud that I'm associated with it," Wertz told UPI in 1979. "I look at it this way: If that ball Willie caught had been a home run or a triple, how many people would've remembered me? Not many. This way, everybody who meets me for the first time always identifies me with Willie's catch, and that makes me feel good."
He was a four-time All-Star and batted .277 for his career, compiling 1,692 hits with 289 doubles, 42 triples, 266 home runs and 1,178 RBI's with a .469 career slugging average and a .364 career on-base percentage. Notably, he also hit for the cycle during his rookie season with Detroit on September 14, 1947.
Wertz finished in the Top 15 in MVP voting five times: 1949 (10th), 1950 (10th), 1956 (9th), 1957 (6th), and 1960 (14th).
Vic was among the Top 10 in the American League in home runs in 1949 (20), 1950 (27), 1951 (27), 1952 (23), 1953 (19), 1956 (32), and 1957 (28). His 1956 total of 32 home runs was 2nd best in the AL.
He was elected to the American League All-Star team four times (1949, 1951, 1952 and 1957). He missed part of the 1955 season when stricken with a nonparalytic form of polio but returned in 1956.
He was a World War II veteran, worked in the Detroit area beer distribution business during/after his baseball career, was known for his baldness, and was very well liked by fans because of his winning personality.
When he retired to Mt. Clemens, Michigan, he formed "Wertz Warriors," a group of sportsmen who raised millions for the Special Olympics Winter Games. Wertz also was a major contributor to the Easter Seals, March of Dimes, and Boys and Girls Clubs, to name just a few. He was the founder of the Macomb to Mackinac, 900 Mile snowmobile endurance test, run each year to benefit the Special Olympics.
Wertz passed away on July 7, 1983, at the age of 58.