― Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 3 May 2006 17:06 (sixteen years ago) link
― c(''c) (Leee), Wednesday, 3 May 2006 17:10 (sixteen years ago) link
The Say Hey Kid has lots of fond memories, few regretsJohn Shea, Chronicle Staff WriterWednesday, May 3, 2006
He's turning 75 on Saturday, and almost half of U.S. citizens weren't born when he played his final season 33 years ago. Their only image of Willie Mays might be the black-and-white film from the 1954 World Series or color clips of Mays running the bases at Candlestick Park, his legs accelerating and his cap falling.
Not everyone is familiar with the Say Hey Kid.
His five-tool distinction and childlike exuberance. His 3,283 hits and 660 home runs. His two MVPs and 12 Gold Gloves. His 24 All-Star appearances and four World Series.
His stickball commitment to the kids in Harlem. His Polo Grounds catch that robbed Vic Wertz. His four-homer game at Hank Aaron's home park in Milwaukee. His 16th-inning homer to beat Warren Spahn.
His peacekeeping mission in the Roseboro-Marichal brawl. His blasting caps commercial ("Don't touch them"). His temporary banishment by Bowie Kuhn. His tutelage of Barry Bonds.
Man, there are a lot of memories of Willie. The guy played three seasons in the Negro Leagues. He made it to the majors four years after Jackie Robinson broke the color line. He was a Giants rookie when Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard 'Round the World. He played in a World Series in his first and final years -- the center-field counterparts were Joe DiMaggio in 1951 and Reggie Jackson in 1973.
For folks relatively new to the planet, there's more to Mays than being Bonds' godfather. Three days before he turns the big seven-five, here's a glimpse at a few things baseball fans ought to know about the greatest living ballplayer, if not the greatest ballplayer, period, gathered in a recent interview at his Peninsula home:
On his boyhood idols
He had four of them. Robinson, for obvious reasons. Also: DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Stan Musial.
"All you saw on the front page in my hometown was Joe and Ted and Stan," said Mays, who grew up in Fairfield, Ala. "I wanted to pick which one I wanted to be like, and I picked Joe because Joe was a more all-around ballplayer than the other two. Joe couldn't hit like Ted and Stan, but he could do everything. I played the same kind of game."
On Willie Howard Mays Sr.
Willie the elder was a ballplayer, too, playing on all-black teams in the segregated South. He worked in a steel mill, which sponsored his semi-pro team. Willie, the younger, played with his dad when he was 14.
"Everybody knew him in Birmingham," Mays said. "They called him 'Cat' because he could run like a cat, very quick. When I played with him, I played center, he played left. I said, 'You play on the line, I'll take care of everything else.'
"He followed me to New York and then to San Francisco. He wasn't just my father. He was my friend. We could talk about anything, which was good for me."
Willie Sr. died in 1999 at 89. Willie's mother, Annie, died while he was still a New York Giant. She was a star sprinter in high school.
On his first professional memory
Willie missed his high school prom because he had to catch a train to Trenton, N.J., where he was beginning his pro career.
What a bummer.
"You're telling me?" he said. "(My date) was my girlfriend at the time. I bought the dress, the corsage, everything. But I had to get somebody to take her to the prom. I was told they needed me in Trenton the next morning, so I went. Baseball was more important to me than the prom. Baseball was my livelihood."
Mays hit .353 with four homers and 55 RBIs in 81 games for Trenton.
On his favorite memento
Mays set more records than he can remember, but what he cherishes most is his scouting report. It's typewritten and dated May 6-10, 1951, when he was with Triple-A Minneapolis.
Some excerpts: "Everything that he does is sensational."... "(He) has made the most spectacular catches, runs and throws with the best of them." ..."Sensational negro boy is the outstanding player in Minneapolis club and probably in all minor leagues for that matter." ..."He is now in one of the best hitting streaks imaginable." ... "(He) hits to all fields and hits all pitches."
A few days after the scouting report was filed, Mays was a major-leaguer, at age 20. In 35 games at Minneapolis, he hit .477 with eight homers and 30 RBIs.
Getting called to the big leagues, he said, was his biggest career thrill.
On breaking into the majors
Mays started his big-league career 0-for-12, then 1-for-26 with a home run off Spahn. Still, he retained the faith of Giants manager Leo Durocher, who knew the kid would be great. Mays was at his locker, crying, when Durocher came over and assured him he'd remain the center fielder.
"Leo never bothered me," Mays said. "He said, 'You play your game, I'll take care of the other eight.' The only time he told me what to do is sometimes he gave me the take sign on 3-0. I didn't even get that too much."
Mays was the league's top rookie in 1951, hitting .274 with 20 homers and 68 RBIs in 121 games.
On the 'The Shot Heard 'Round the World'
Mays was on deck when Thomson's homer off Ralph Branca beat the Dodgers for the 1951 pennant.
"I thought they'd let me hit. I thought they'd walk Bobby," Mays said. "I was happy it wasn't me. I was on deck, but I was the last guy to the plate after Bobby scored. I was so nervous."
On wearing No. 24
Mays began his big-league career as No. 14. Jack Maguire had 24. A few days later, Maguire was traded, and 24 went to Mays.
"That's the number they gave me," Mays said. "In those days, you didn't ask for a number because someone else wore it. You were just so glad to get a number."
The Giants have retired 24. When Bonds first signed with the Giants, he wanted to wear 24 because of Mays, his godfather. Barry settled for 25, his dad Bobby's old number.
The Giants' ballpark is at 24 Willie Mays Plaza, and Mays' bronze statue is surrounded by 24 palm trees. The right-field wall is 24 feet high.
Mays said he wore 28 at Minneapolis.
On the origin of 'Say Hey Kid'
When Mays came to the majors, he didn't know everyone's name right away.
"You see a guy, you say, 'Hey, man. Say hey, man,' " Mays said. "Ted was the 'Splinter'. Joe was 'Joltin' Joe'. Stan was 'The Man'. I guess I hit a few home runs, and they said there goes the 'Say Hey Kid.' "
Mays credits sportswriter Jimmy Cannon with creating the nickname. Other sources trace it to sportswriter Barney Kremenko.
On the origin of the basket catch
Another example of how he was set apart from others. Catching flies at his waist rather than over his head was standard practice for Mays. He said he worked on it while playing ball in the Army in the early '50s.
"I wanted to do something different than other guys playing the outfield," Mays said. "When I came out of the Army, Leo said I could do it. Just don't drop it. I missed two. One in Pittsburgh, one in New York. Ten years apart. I was pretty polished."
On the famous World Series catch
The play was known as The Catch. Mays remembers it as The Throw.
Game 1, '54 Series, Polo Grounds, eighth inning, 2-2 score. Cleveland's Larry Doby on second, Al Rosen on first, Vic Wertz at the plate. Wertz smashes the ball 450 to 460 feet to center, seemingly beyond Mays' reach. But Mays gloved it over his shoulder and, in one motion, fired it back to the infield.
"It was a wide-receiver catch. I knew I'd get it. It was high enough where I could catch it. That wasn't the problem," Mays said. "The hardest thing was getting it back to the infield. I knew Larry could score if I didn't get the ball back quickly. I scored lots of times from second base on a deep fly that was caught. That was the only thing I was worried about."
Doby returned to second, tagged and went to third, Rosen retreated to first. The Indians didn't score in the inning, and the Giants won on Dusty Rhodes' pinch homer in the 10th, then swept the Series.
On why the Giants didn't win a title in San Francisco
No team has played in one city longer than the Giants without winning a World Series. In San Francisco, they're 0-for-48.
The first 14 years were on Mays' watch.
"We had some good hitters on our club. A lot of times, we just never had more than two starting pitchers," Mays said. "When we won the pennant in '62, we had five good pitchers. We should've won it that year."
Instead, the Yankees won in seven games. With two outs in the ninth inning of Game 7, Mays doubled to right, sending Matty Alou to third. Willie McCovey then lined out to second baseman Bobby Richardson, and the Giants lost 1-0.
"It had rained and rained, and that ball I hit didn't rattle around in the corner because the field was too wet. It stopped," said Mays, recalling right fielder Roger Maris cutting it off. "I wish I would've been the runner instead of Matty. If I was the runner, I'd have probably tried to score. If I was out, I was out. I wouldn't have been watching the stop sign. The relay was to Richardson, and his throw was up the line a little bit. I would've run. There would've been some type of collision at home plate. It wouldn't have bothered me."
On his greatest regret
Mays didn't want to leave San Francisco, but owner Horace Stoneham, looking to save a buck, had him dealt to the Mets in the first month of the 1972 season.
"I didn't ever want to be traded," he said. "You're with a club so long, you don't want to go anywhere. But when I got to New York, it was like I never left. All the players hugged me and asked where I'd been so many years."
In his first game with the Mets, Mays hit a homer to beat the Giants.
On how Bonds could have been chasing Mays, not Aaron
Mays missed all but 34 games in 1952 and all of 1953 to serve in the Army. He estimates it cost him between 70 and 80 homers.
"Easy," Mays said. "That was two years I lost."
Candlestick Park also cost him. The late Giants beat writer Bob Stevens said Mays would have hit 800 homers if not for the tough Candlestick conditions.
Do the math: Without the military or the 'Stick, that's 870 to 880 homers.
"I don't like to look at it that way," Mays said. "I like to look at it as, I had a good 20, 22 years. I had my time, and I enjoyed my time."
On why he didn't manage
One reason Mays didn't want to manage, he said, was because he didn't think he'd succeed.
"I could've done that," he said, "but I don't think I would've been a good manager because I think I would've expected too much out of the players. I was told Frank (Robinson, the Nationals' 70-year-old manager) was very difficult on players the first few years because he was such a great player. Now he's mellowed and can handle it."
Mays revealed that Peter Magowan asked him about managing when his group bought the Giants after the 1992 season. Then, Mays was 61.
On why he'd rather teach
One of Mays' pastimes is visiting spring training and hanging in the clubhouse with young players. He'd like to take it to another level.
"I'd like to teach them," he said. "Give me six kids. Not just major-league kids, but kids from the minors. Take them out, work with them, see their progress. Let the club know they could call up a kid and he'd do something. Baserunning, hitting, fielding.
"What I see nowadays, they don't have the baserunning skills. They catch too much with one hand. The hardest thing is believing what I say. Once they believe, the other part is easy."
On Bonds' steroid plight
Bonds gets booed on the road while the treatment for Jason Giambi and Gary Sheffield isn't as harsh despite their shared involvement in the BALCO steroid case.
"My thing is, he shouldn't have to go through it by himself," Mays said. "There were seven other guys out there, I was told, and they're being left alone. (Mark) McGwire quit. Sammy (Sosa) quit. (Rafael) Palmeiro quit.
"It's just my opinion, but I'd like for everybody to say, 'Whatever happened in the past, let it go.' From this day on, we're making tighter rules. You do something wrong, we'll penalize you, because they have no proof, the way I understand it. I may be wrong.
"Let's move on. Let him play. Let him have fun. He'll be better off if they let him alone for a while. But that's not going to happen."
On whether Aaron's catchable
Bonds has 712 homers, and it's only a matter of time before he surpasses Ruth's 714. But what about Aaron's 755? This is Bonds' final season of his contract, and he turns 42 in July.
"If he hits 30, 35 this year, he's got a shot at it," Mays said. "But if he hits only 20, 22, it may be too much for him."
On turning 75
"I'm not a birthday guy," Mays said. "I like simple things. Get a cake and get it over with and go on to the next one, hopefully."
― Steve Shasta (Steve Shasta), Wednesday, 3 May 2006 17:12 (sixteen years ago) link
http://sfgate.com/c/pictures/2006/05/03/sp_scanlib_willie_ma.jpg[I love this pic]
― Steve Shasta (Steve Shasta), Wednesday, 3 May 2006 17:14 (sixteen years ago) link
― Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 3 May 2006 18:43 (sixteen years ago) link
The only oldtimer who needed help walking at Shea yesterday. :(
― Dr Morbius, Monday, 29 September 2008 16:31 (thirteen years ago) link
Willie seems like an OLD 78... :\
― Every Day Jimmy Mod Is Hustlin' (Jimmy The Mod Awaits The Return Of His Beloved), Monday, 29 September 2008 18:21 (thirteen years ago) link
― Dr Morbius, Monday, 29 September 2008 18:47 (thirteen years ago) link
Memoir coming next month:
― Rage, Resentment, Spleen (Dr Morbius), Sunday, 31 January 2010 14:39 (twelve years ago) link
sorry, my Sunday morning comprehension is iffy -- it's essentially an authorized bio, not a memoir.
― Rage, Resentment, Spleen (Dr Morbius), Sunday, 31 January 2010 15:21 (twelve years ago) link
― resistance does not require a firearm (Dr Morbius), Friday, 6 May 2011 11:26 (eleven years ago) link
50th anniversary (Sunday) of a pretty good game.
― clemenza, Friday, 5 July 2013 17:28 (nine years ago) link
looks like marichal's game score was 112! spahn's was a mere 97.
i can't seem to find a way to look up the pitch counts, though.
― Z S, Friday, 5 July 2013 17:36 (nine years ago) link
Seven HOF'ers, with four of them accounting for 2448 HR, and the two starters just over 600 wins. Attendance: 15,921!
― clemenza, Friday, 5 July 2013 17:41 (nine years ago) link
Marichal threw 227 pitches; Spahn threw 201.
From a nice little article: http://www.mercurynews.com/giants/ci_23576887/marichal-spahn-epic-duel-was-50-years-ago
― Stately, plump Carey Mulleeegan (Leee), Friday, 5 July 2013 18:59 (nine years ago) link
Alvin Dark tried to take Marichal out for the first time in the ninth. The conversation did not go well. Marichal refused to go, pointing to the Braves dugout at the 42-year-old counterpart and telling his manager, "I am not going to come out of that game as long as that old man is still pitching."Dark tried again in the 12th, again to no avail. Before the 15th, Marichal thought he spotted a reliever coming in from the bullpen, so he hastily grabbed his glove and cap and raced out to the mound to reclaim his territory.
Dark tried again in the 12th, again to no avail. Before the 15th, Marichal thought he spotted a reliever coming in from the bullpen, so he hastily grabbed his glove and cap and raced out to the mound to reclaim his territory.
― Stately, plump Carey Mulleeegan (Leee), Friday, 5 July 2013 19:00 (nine years ago) link
when men were men and hitters weren't that good.
― playwright Greg Marlowe, secretly in love with Mary (Dr Morbius), Saturday, 6 July 2013 00:50 (nine years ago) link
Didn't realize this was out there till I saw it in a bookstore today:
Still on the expensive side. Barra's great.
― clemenza, Thursday, 22 August 2013 19:30 (eight years ago) link
superstar living, 1954
― Miss Arlington twirls for the Coal Heavers (Dr Morbius), Sunday, 22 September 2013 14:04 (eight years ago) link
I love the first comment: "This photo is why Marvin Miller should be in the Hall Of Fame"
― NoTimeBeforeTime, Monday, 23 September 2013 05:08 (eight years ago) link
― this horrible, rotten slog to rigor mortis (Dr Morbius), Thursday, 16 October 2014 21:13 (seven years ago) link
― My Life with the Thrillho Kult (Leee), Friday, 17 October 2014 03:37 (seven years ago) link
yeah you also ignored the beautiful 'happiness is a mets victory' picture i posted FOR YOU MORBS.
― Van Horn Street, Friday, 17 October 2014 03:39 (seven years ago) link
yes, yr a good man. xp
No, I didn't! Just silent. I've read about that kid's banner for decades (it's not me).
― this horrible, rotten slog to rigor mortis (Dr Morbius), Friday, 17 October 2014 03:40 (seven years ago) link
I'll put this here instead of the Trout thread:
― clemenza, Thursday, 1 October 2015 11:41 (six years ago) link
Bought an old issue of Life today (James Earl Ray/Sirhan Sirhan cover) and found this ad inside:
― clemenza, Sunday, 11 October 2015 17:15 (six years ago) link
― clemenza, Tuesday, 24 November 2015 23:18 (six years ago) link
― mookieproof, Saturday, 7 May 2016 00:24 (six years ago) link
I had my vintage Mays shirt on at the Jays game tonight.
― clemenza, Saturday, 7 May 2016 04:27 (six years ago) link
Happy Birthday to the Say Hey Kid. 85 and was at the ballpark for his birthday.
― Bee OK, Saturday, 7 May 2016 14:37 (six years ago) link
You've probably seen this by now--can't figure out how to embed the clip.
Little things mean a lot. Notwithstanding that there's staff there to initiate and look after these things, I don't think you'd have seen this if McCain or Romney had been president.
― clemenza, Monday, 9 May 2016 22:45 (six years ago) link
that was Great! thanks for sharing clemenza.
― Bee OK, Tuesday, 10 May 2016 01:11 (six years ago) link
otoh everyone would give Kissinger a medal, that we all know
― we can be heroes just for about 3.6 seconds (Dr Morbius), Tuesday, 10 May 2016 02:22 (six years ago) link
...that is, Jesus fucking Christ.
I've tried hard the past year-plus not to respond to your idiocy, but this time I will. Did it ever occur to you that a gesture like that might mean something to Willie Mays?
― clemenza, Tuesday, 10 May 2016 02:51 (six years ago) link
it was fine til you brought McCain and Mitt into it. Just pretend America isn't here.
― we can be heroes just for about 3.6 seconds (Dr Morbius), Tuesday, 10 May 2016 03:00 (six years ago) link
When I saw his name at the top of that newsy Facebook sidebar, I assumed that was it. No--anniversary of the Catch.
― clemenza, Thursday, 29 September 2016 22:16 (five years ago) link
On this date in 1954, Willie Mays made one of the most iconic defensive plays in World Series history. The Giants center fielder tracked down Vic Wertz's long fly ball to make "The Catch" — an over-the-head basket grab in deep center field at the Polo Grounds — during a crucial moment in Game 1 against the Indians. The Giants went on to win the World Series in a four-game sweep.
Today, Major League Baseball announced that the World Series MVP trophy has been renamed in honor of the Say Hey Kid.
― ice cream social justice (Dr Morbius), Friday, 29 September 2017 19:37 (four years ago) link
― brimstead, Friday, 29 September 2017 20:05 (four years ago) link
― a Mets fan who gave up on everything in the mid '80s (Dr Morbius), Monday, 6 May 2019 15:50 (three years ago) link
And Happy Birthday too to Orson Welles and Sigmund Freud--May 6, genius day.
― clemenza, Monday, 6 May 2019 21:58 (three years ago) link
and John Flansburgh of They Might be Giants and frogbs
― frogbs, Monday, 6 May 2019 22:01 (three years ago) link
Have a good one--great day for your birthday.
― clemenza, Monday, 6 May 2019 22:08 (three years ago) link
― brooklyn suicide cult (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 6 May 2020 12:37 (two years ago) link
90 today. (Can't find the thread I once started on May 6 birthdays--Mays, Orson Welles, and Freud.)
― clemenza, Thursday, 6 May 2021 12:49 (one year ago) link
91 today, happy birthday
― Bee OK, Friday, 6 May 2022 22:22 (three months ago) link
― Bee OK, Friday, 6 May 2022 23:14 (three months ago) link