Arnold Hano wrote many books and articles in a long, distinguished career.
He's remembered for chronicling one moment on a sun-splashed September afternoon in upper Manhattan, close to where Hano spent his early childhood.
Sitting in the Polo Grounds' center field bleachers, Hano witnessed New York Giants outfielder Willie Mays' over-the-back catch of a smash by the Cleveland Indians' Vic Wertz in the eigth inning of the opening game of the 1954 World Series. Mays' catch, and subsequent spinning throw to the infield, is one of the most famous plays in baseball history.
Wertz's blast traveled 450 feet in the Polo Grounds' expansive center field. Mays turned and raced toward the ball, catching it over his back, then turned and hurled the ball to the infield.
The throw kept the Indians' Larry Doby from scoring from second base, preserving a 2-2 tie. The Giants went on to win the game 5-2 on Dusty Rhodes' 10th inning home run, and swept the series over the Indians, the overwhelming favorite after winning 111 games during the regular season.
Hano gave a memorable account of Mays' feat in his 1955 book "A Day in the Bleachers," now seen as a pioneering work of "New Journalism." While he want on to a prolific career as a magazine writer and popular novelist, Hano gained fame for his description of that play, giving a picture as clear and vivid as black-and-white film clips available on YouTube.
A native of New York City, Hano died Sunday at age 99 at his home in Laguna Beach, Calif., according to a New York Times obituary. Along with novels, Hano wrote several biographies of sports heroes, including Mays. He was a veteran of World War II, and won the 1964 Sidney Hillman Foundation Award for his article "The Burned Out Americans," uncovering abuses of migrant workers in California's Central Valley.
Along with brilliantly depicting Mays' catch, "A Day in the Bleachers" records Hano's reactions to working-class fans, the smell of hot dogs, and each team's players. His novelistic first-person voice anticipates later works by Tom Wolfe, Hunter S. Thompson and Norman Mailer.
He came to the game planning to write an article about the experience of attending the opening game of a World Series. He completed an impressionistic piece, rejected by the New Yorker, and went on to finish the book. "A Day in the Bleachers" set a standard for later sports classics by Roger Kahn, Dick Schapp, Roy Blount Jr., Roger Angell and others.
In his long, productive life, Hano also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Costa Rica and fought to protect Laguna Beach's shoreline from developers' schemes.
The films on YouTube show Willie Mays going back, his number 24 turned toward the infield, and somehow capturing the ball in flight. In Hano's words, the moment lives forever.