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The best defensive plays in baseball history

DeWayne Wise is the classic baseball journeyman. He has played parts of seven big-league seasons with four teams. He has never appeared in more than 77 games in a season, never hit more than six home runs and never driven in more than 18. He's 31, so it seems unlikely he is going to become a star. But Wise, right, an outfielder with the White Sox, will be remembered in baseball lore. All it took was one spectacular play: robbing Gabe Kapler of a home run Thursday with a leaping, juggling catch to preserve Mark Buehrle's perfect game against the Rays. Today we salute players like Wise, those remembered for one shining moment in the field. Here's our list of players — and one notable nonplayer — best known for making a great defensive play.

Sandy Amoros

Amoros kicked around the majors mostly during the 1950s, playing sparingly and hitting a light .255 for his career. But one play made him a Dodgers legend. Brooklyn held a 2-0 lead in the sixth inning of Game 7 of the 1955 World Series when the Yankees' Yogi Berra lifted a ball into the leftfield corner with two on and no outs. Amoros raced to the ball and caught it with an extended left hand at the wall's 301-foot marker. He stopped short of crashing into the wall and turned the catch into a double play. Three innings later, the Dodgers won their first world championship, the only one while playing in Brooklyn.

Rick Monday

Monday spent 19 seasons in the majors, hit 241 homers, made two All-Star teams and even hit a homer to win the 1981 National League Championship Series for the Dodgers. But he is most known for a defensive "save" that goes down as the most patriotic play in baseball history. In a 1976 game at Dodger Stadium, a father and son ran onto the field and attempted to set an American flag on fire. Monday, playing for the Cubs, raced over and plucked the flag away before it could be lit. He received a standing ovation later when he came up to bat, and a message on the scoreboard said it all: "Rick Monday … You made a great play."

Al Gionfriddo

Gionfriddo played only four seasons in the majors, appearing in 228 games and hitting .266 with two career homers. But he made one of the World Series' greatest catches while playing for the Dodgers. In 1947's Game 6, Joe DiMaggio crushed a pitch to deep left. Gionfriddo ran for what seemed like an eternity and made a spectacular grab just shy of the 415-foot mark in Yankee Stadium. Even DiMaggio couldn't believe he made the catch. In a rare display of emotion on the field — and in one of the classic pieces of film in baseball history — DiMaggio kicked the dirt in disgust.

Steve Bartman

One of the most famous "defensive'' plays wasn't pulled off by a player and is the curse of the Cubs. Chicago had a 3-0 lead against the Marlins in Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series and was five outs from going to its first World Series since 1945 when Bartman leaned over the stands down the leftfield line and possibly prevented the Cubs' Moises Alou from making a catch for the second out of the eighth. The hitter, Luis Castillo, eventually walked, and the Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning to win. They won Game 7, too, the Cubs' curse continued, and Bartman became infamous.

Brooks Robinson

This is a tough call. Robinson played 23 seasons, made 15 All-Star teams and is in the Hall of Fame. He was the 1964 American League MVP and won the All-Star Game MVP award the same year. He had more than 2,800 hits, won 16 Gold Gloves and popped a respectable 268 homers. But let's play word association. If we say "Brooks Robinson,'' the first words out of most mouths is "1970 World Series.'' The Orioles third baseman made a spectacular defensive play in Game 1: After gloving a grounder by the Reds' Lee May, momentum carried him well into foul territory, but he still threw out May at first. Robinson turned in four more spectacular plays in Game 4. Clearly, his prowess with the glove in the 1970 Series was the signature moment of his stellar career.

Ron Swoboda

Swoboda was an okay player. He spent nine years in the majors, averaging 13 homers and 60 RBIs. Again, one play made his legacy. In Game 4 of the 1969 World Series, Swoboda made a diving catch in rightfield on a liner hit by Baltimore's Brooks Robinson to kill an Orioles rally and send the game to extra innings. The Mets went on to win Game 4 and then Game 5 to win the Series and put the finishing touches on their amazin' season. The Mets' new Citi Field ballpark features a metal silhouette of a player making a diving catch just like the one Swoboda made in 69.

Gary Matthews Jr.

The son of a former major-leaguer, Matthews has played for eight teams since 1999. He has had a few decent seasons, but when you think of him, you think of what some consider the finest catch in the history of the game. While in a full sprint, Matthews climbed the wall at the Rangers' park in Arlington, Texas, and made a twisting, turning, over-the-head catch to rob Houston's Mike Lamb of a home run. It wasn't a playoff game or a World Series game. It was a run-of-the-mill game in July 2006. But it just goes to show how spectacular the catch was that it happened in just another game but is considered legendary.

Carl Crawford

In these parts, Crawford is a star. He's known for stealing bases, hitting triples and being a key, longtime member of the Rays organization, perhaps even the best player in the history of the franchise. But what about the average fan in Seattle or Iowa or upstate New York? What about the casual fan outside of Tampa Bay? They likely know Crawford best (and maybe only) for his catch to rob Colorado's Brad Hawpe of a homer in the All-Star Game this month. Perhaps someday Crawford will go on to be a World Series star or even reach 3,000 hits and earn his way into the Hall of Fame. But for now, those outside Tampa Bay best know Crawford for the catch that won him All-Star Game MVP honors.

Endy Chavez

Game 7 of the 2006 National League Championship Series. The Mets and Cardinals were tied 1-1 in the top of the sixth. With a runner on first, St. Louis' Scott Rolen crushed a pitch to deep left. Chavez went into full sprint, reached the warning track, jumped the 8-foot wall and barely snagged the ball with the tip of his glove. He then wheeled and threw the ball back in for a double play. If the Mets had gone on and won, it might be considered the greatest catch in baseball history. Instead, St. Louis won, and Chavez's catch is merely a note. But it is the headline on Chavez's nine seasons in the bigs.

The best defensive plays in baseball history 07/25/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 25, 2009 9:03pm]
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