The Best Defensive Center Fielders

We’ve been examining the best three-year peaks of defensive play by Giant players, as measured by’s rfield. I explained my methodology here, and we’ve previously looked at catchers, first-, second– and third basemen, shortstops and left fielders. Today we turn our attention to center fielders, or rather, one center fielder.


Player Years 3-year Defensive Runs/150 3 Year Defensive Runs
Willie Mays 1964-66 16.4 50
Willie Mays 1962-64 15.5 49
Willie Mays 1960-62 15.5 48
Willie Mays 1961-63 14.6 46
Willie Mays 1963-65 14.3 44
Willie Mays 1954-56 13.5 41
Willie Mays 1965-67 12.1 35
Willie Mays 1958-60 11.0 33
Willie Mays 1959-61 10.6 32
Willie Mays 1956-58 10.6 32


Once, Giant manager Bill Rigney was emphasizing a point to a group of his young infielders in spring training. “When the ball is hit to the guy in center field,” Rigney said, “get to a base, because that ball is going to come in where it’s supposed to. Trust him. Willie knows.” One of the infielders, curious, asked Rigney, “What does he know, Skip?” The question caught Rigney up short for a moment. He scratched his head. “I don’t know what he knows,” Rigney finally said. “But Willie knows. So just get your ass to a base.”

You’ve seen the films of diving catches and leaping catches and running catches, and throws, too. But it wasn’t just talent and skill, although Willie Mays had plenty of both. What Mays did  out there was much more fundamental. “When Willie was on the field,” one teammate said, “he was absolutely intense. Nothing could distract him. . . . He was always a play or two ahead of the opposition on balls hit to the outfield.” There were times when he seemed ahead of the batter too. Some observers swore Mays was already in motion — unerringly — even as the batter was swinging. “He gets the signal from the infield,” a Giant coach said of Mays, “and so he knows what the pitch is going to be. He knows what kind of stuff the pitcher has, how the guy is throwing that day, what kind of control, and he knows the batter. He sees where the pitch is going and instinctively knows what the batter is going to do with it. You wonder why he’s back there to catch a long one and then how he can be coming in to take a line drive off his shoe tops. That isn’t luck. He’s in the game pitch by pitch. God knows how many runs he’s saved and how many games he’s won just by thinking.”

Anticipation. Concentration. Sensing what the opposition is going to do, knowing his own capabilities for preventing them from doing it. Willie knows.


This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.