Say HEY! Willie Mays, 75 on Saturday

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When Herman Franks, who managed the Giants in the mid-1960s, was asked why he often deferred to Mays so frequently, he put it this way: "Because he knows more about those things than I do. You got any hard questions?"

Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 3 May 2006 17:06 (eighteen years ago) link

Clap Your Hands Say Hey!

c(''c) (Leee), Wednesday, 3 May 2006 17:10 (eighteen years ago) link


The Say Hey Kid has lots of fond memories, few regrets
John Shea, Chronicle Staff Writer
Wednesday, 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 (eighteen years ago) link

two years pass...

The only oldtimer who needed help walking at Shea yesterday. :(

Dr Morbius, Monday, 29 September 2008 16:31 (fifteen 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 (fifteen years ago) link


Dr Morbius, Monday, 29 September 2008 18:47 (fifteen years ago) link

one year passes...

Memoir coming next month:

Rage, Resentment, Spleen (Dr Morbius), Sunday, 31 January 2010 14:39 (fourteen 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 (fourteen years ago) link

one year passes...

say h80!

resistance does not require a firearm (Dr Morbius), Friday, 6 May 2011 11:26 (thirteen years ago) link

two years pass...

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 (eleven 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 (eleven years ago) link

Z S:

Marichal threw 227 pitches; Spahn threw 201.

From a nice little article:

Stately, plump Carey Mulleeegan (Leee), Friday, 5 July 2013 18:59 (eleven 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.

Stately, plump Carey Mulleeegan (Leee), Friday, 5 July 2013 19:00 (eleven 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 (eleven years ago) link

one month passes...

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 (ten years ago) link

one month passes...

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 (ten years ago) link

one year passes...


Happy now?

My Life with the Thrillho Kult (Leee), Friday, 17 October 2014 03:37 (nine 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 (nine 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 (nine years ago) link

eleven months pass...

I'll put this here instead of the Trout thread:

clemenza, Thursday, 1 October 2015 11:41 (eight 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 (eight years ago) link

one month passes...
five months pass...


mookieproof, Saturday, 7 May 2016 00:24 (eight years ago) link

I had my vintage Mays shirt on at the Jays game tonight.

clemenza, Saturday, 7 May 2016 04:27 (eight 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 (eight 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 (eight years ago) link

that was Great! thanks for sharing clemenza.

Bee OK, Tuesday, 10 May 2016 01:11 (eight 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 (eight years ago) link

...that is, Jesus fucking Christ.

we can be heroes just for about 3.6 seconds (Dr Morbius), Tuesday, 10 May 2016 02:22 (eight years ago) link

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 (eight 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 (eight years ago) link

four months pass...

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 (seven years ago) link

one year passes...

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 (six years ago) link

That rules

brimstead, Friday, 29 September 2017 20:05 (six years ago) link

one year passes...

And Happy Birthday too to Orson Welles and Sigmund Freud--May 6, genius day.

clemenza, Monday, 6 May 2019 21:58 (five years ago) link

and John Flansburgh of They Might be Giants and frogbs

frogbs, Monday, 6 May 2019 22:01 (five years ago) link

Have a good one--great day for your birthday.

clemenza, Monday, 6 May 2019 22:08 (five years ago) link

one year passes...

say HEY

brooklyn suicide cult (Dr Morbius), Wednesday, 6 May 2020 12:37 (four years ago) link

one year passes...

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 (three years ago) link

one year passes...

91 today, happy birthday

Bee OK, Friday, 6 May 2022 22:22 (two years ago) link

four months pass...

Hope to see this somewhere:

clemenza, Tuesday, 4 October 2022 14:51 (one year ago) link

two months pass...

Still one of the greatest moments in baseball history

— BaseballHistoryNut (@nut_history) December 13, 2022

It really was, I'd agree. I don't think Mays is all that mobile these days, but if at all possible, I really wish they'd do the same for him next All-Star Game.

clemenza, Wednesday, 14 December 2022 22:12 (one year ago) link

He was at one of the last games of the season - had hip surgery recently and wants to be at spring training.

There was a good SI piece about this, about how he didn’t want to be seen as a a museum piece and just enjoys spending time in the clubhouse with players.

bit high, bitch (gyac), Wednesday, 14 December 2022 22:57 (one year ago) link

I saw a note on Instagram posted by the Giants about how he couldn’t attend the game due to not being able to move around well, which I assumed was just his age, but yeah. What a life he had. RIP.

Roman Anthony gets on his horse (gyac), Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:06 (one month ago) link

RIP. One of the true all times greats.

FRAUDULENT STEAKS (The Cursed Return of the Dastardly Thermo Thinwall), Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:11 (one month ago) link

Ah, geez, with that game coming up. He was a question in our monthly trivia last night (24 Willie Mays Drive). And when I was playing tennis tonight and members had to pick a shoe medallion from #1-40, I reflexively took 24.

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:12 (one month ago) link

literally just passed by the statue outside oracle. rip

, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:13 (one month ago) link

For almost 30 years I've wondered if he ever tried to get the e-mail address I grabbed in the early '90s: say✧✧✧@rocketm✧✧✧.c✧✧.

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:13 (one month ago) link

(I guess the stars are automatic.)

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:14 (one month ago) link

My favourite quote of his, from the blog where he’s talking to Giants rookies in 2009, which I pasted upthread

“I know you guys are saying, ‘Oh, hell, he didn’t do all this stuff. Oh yes I did.’’

Roman Anthony gets on his horse (gyac), Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:22 (one month ago) link

Cover I came up with for Radio On #4 (1994 or '95)

The text is from a Barbara Lewis song: "Tell me you can't stay put too long in one place/Without a word you go running off to some place."

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:45 (one month ago) link

CNN had Charles Barkley on: "Mr. Mays, Mr. Aaron."

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:51 (one month ago) link

The Greatest Ever.

Bee OK, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 01:56 (one month ago) link

RIP. Can't believe he's really gone, but what a life he had.

NoTimeBeforeTime, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 02:42 (one month ago) link

Mays vs. Koufax:

Edge to Mays.

Mays vs. Gibson:

Whoah--now that's dominance.

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 02:44 (one month ago) link

at the risk of sounding like a hack baseball writer Jackson Chourio just hit an inside the park HR which very much looked like some of the Willie Mays highlights I've seen, helmet flying off just trucking around 3rd

frogbs, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 02:50 (one month ago) link

Here's something I never knew: "Only two men no taller than 5'10" have hit more than 360 home runs: Mel Ott, who hit 511, and Mays, far out front with 660."

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 04:03 (one month ago) link

Incredible athlete. RIP.

felicity, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 04:55 (one month ago) link


werewolves of laudanum (VegemiteGrrl), Wednesday, 19 June 2024 05:42 (one month ago) link


Close your eyes, just for a second, and picture a baseball player.

Is he in the box, bat held low, coiled, focused, potential energy seconds from becoming kinetic?

Is he rounding second, gliding more than he is running, triple on his mind?

Is his back to the diamond as he races across a sunny patch of green grass, chasing down a baseball that never had a chance to fall safely?

Is he young, the world at his feet?

Is he smiling?

Tell a fan to picture a baseball player, and there’s a pretty good chance their mind will turn to Willie Mays. Mays, who died Tuesday at the age of 93, days before MLB’s Negro Leagues tribute game in Alabama, was baseball, a do-it-all player who did it all with joy, with flair, with style. Mays, one of the last superstars to begin his career in the Negro Leagues, may have been the best to ever play our game. He did everything a baseball player could do to win games short of taking the mound.

Mays hit for average, .301 lifetime. He hit for power, with 660 career home runs, and spent much of his career second all-time behind Babe Ruth. He ran, stealing 339 bases and leading the league four years in a row at a time when the stolen base was in retreat. That speed was always on display in center field, where he ranks among the best to ever cover the 8, in part because of an arm that was strong and true. In one of the deepest competitive environments in baseball history, the National League post-integration, Mays’s teams won four pennants and one World Series, falling a game short of two other championships. His signature play -- just “The Catch” -- in the 1954 World Series is one of the iconic moments in baseball history.

The Say Hey Kid -- a nickname of disputed origins, but likely tied to Mays’s use of the phrase -- had more tools, though. He connected with people. Growing up in New York well after Mays’s career ended, one of the first things I ever learned about him was that he played stickball in the street, just like, and with, regular New York kids. He was fun to watch, his hat flying off as he went first to third, as he turned a double into an out. He was regular-sized, listed at 5’10”, 170, hardly intimidating, looking like someone you might be able to strike out if he showed up on your block waving a broomstick. Four sewers and one lost Spaldeen later...

Mays’s career bridged black-and-white to color, grass to turf, leagues to divisions, flannel to doubleknit. By the time of his rookie season in the NL, 1951, just six MLB teams had put a Black man on the field. In 1973, his final year, six Black men started in the All-Star Game. Jackie Robinson was respected for his play and for his toughness under unimaginable strain. Mays, though, was the first Black baseball player to be loved, first by the baseball world, and then the wider sports world beyond that.

Well, except for sportswriters. You know the best argument for WAR? Mays led the NL in WAR ten times. He won two MVPs. Which of those figures makes more sense to you?

Mays’s greatness, though, wasn’t in the numbers, it wasn’t even in the great defensive plays and cannonball runs from first to home and 24 trips to the All-Star Game.

No, what we can take from Mays’s career, and his life beyond it, is this: Willie Mays was baseball’s most beloved player. Whether you followed his career from the grandstand or on YouTube, whether you argued Willie vs. Mickey vs. The Duke or are not entirely sure who those other guys are, if you love baseball, there’s a little piece of you missing today.

We’ve lost Willie Mays, and there’s no replacing him.

Humanitarian Pause (Tracer Hand), Wednesday, 19 June 2024 07:41 (one month ago) link

Goddamn, this was crushing to hear, especially with the Rickwood game coming up tomorrow. It's gonna have a lot more emotional heft now.

octobeard, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 18:57 (one month ago) link

Waiting on what I expect will be a small-book-length post from Posnanski today.

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 19:31 (one month ago) link

Everyone got most upset with my Willie Mays autograph story last year (which still makes me laugh! sorry), so let me make up for it here.

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 19:38 (one month ago) link

Amazing photo!

octobeard, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 19:53 (one month ago) link

One thing I've thought about over the years was how it was always comforting knowing Willie was still alive and kickin' in SF where I live. Just made this place feel more relevant and somehow made the bygone eras of both the city and baseball here still feel alive in some capacity. I'm so happy he was able to witness the championships a decade ago. RIP, legend.

octobeard, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 19:54 (one month ago) link

Highly recommend Leo Durocher's Nice Guys Finish Last, which has lots and lots and lots of Mays. I'll look for a good excerpt tonight.

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 20:02 (one month ago) link

"I don't move as well as I used to."

clemenza, Wednesday, 19 June 2024 20:11 (one month ago) link

Posting too much, I know...They did kind of artfully not mention Gibson in #10 here:

clemenza, Thursday, 20 June 2024 00:27 (one month ago) link

Love all these stories and memories. The game tomorrow is going to be intense.

RIP Say Hey Kid (Bee OK), Thursday, 20 June 2024 00:43 (one month ago) link

I was Zooming last night with an internet friend (we've never met) from San Francisco who saw Mays all through his prime, going back to 1958, when he was five.

clemenza, Thursday, 20 June 2024 00:48 (one month ago) link

I think I have a 60s WM baseball card

calstars, Thursday, 20 June 2024 01:12 (one month ago) link

Posnanski's Mays post went up today. It's less about Mays than trying to decide who is now the Greatest Living Player. I guess he wrote so much about Mays in The Baseball 100--Mays was #1--he didn't want to repeat himself.

He starts with the idea that Bonds is obviously the GLP, but eventually, and circuitously, settles on Griffey, which will no doubt raise the ire of many.

Gleaned one interesting thing from a quick skim. In '69, when the writers chose their greatest all-time and greatest living players lists, they moved Mays to RF so they could get him onto the living list:

RHP: Walter Johnson (All-Time); Bob Feller (Living--died in 2010)
LHP: Lefty Grove (All-Time); Lefty Grove (Living--died in 1975)
C: Mickey Cochrane (All-Time); Bill Dickey (Living--died in 1993)
1B: George Sisler (All-Time); George Sisler and Stan Musial (Living)
2B: Rogers Hornsby (All-Time); Charlie Gehringer (Living--died in 1993)
3B: Pie Traynor (All-Time); Pie Traynor (Living--died in 1972)
SS: Honus Wagner (All-Time); Joe Cronin (Living--died in 1984)
LF: Ty Cobb (All-Time); Ted Williams (Living--died in 2002)
CF Joe DiMaggio (All-Time); Joe DiMaggio (Living--died in 1999)
RF: Babe Ruth (All-Time); Willie Mays (Living--died in 2024)

"There’s a little bit to unpack here, particularly the fact that the writers put Willie Mays in rightfield to get him on the living team, which, you know, on the one hand, I get it, because having an all-time living baseball team without Willie Mays would have been ridiculous. On the other hand, listing Willie Mays as a rightfielder is like listing Leonardo Da Vinci as an auto mechanic. I’m sure he’d have been able to do one helluva tuneup, but it entirely misses the point."

clemenza, Thursday, 20 June 2024 15:31 (one month ago) link

Thinking about Jerry West and the NBA logo, this is a great idea.

clemenza, Friday, 21 June 2024 18:39 (one month ago) link

Haven't won since Mays passing. Down to 2 starters. This year's team just isn't any good, mediocre.

I need something else to do.

RIP Say Hey Kid (Bee OK), Saturday, 22 June 2024 20:53 (one month ago) link

Wrong thread

RIP Say Hey Kid (Bee OK), Saturday, 22 June 2024 20:53 (one month ago) link

from the old tyme baseball photos thread, h/t gyac

I follow former SI photographer Walter Iooss on IG (you should too) and he posted this pic he took of Willie Mays the other day on Mays’s 90th bday. Pull this picture out every time someone says “they didn’t have athletes then like we have now.”

— Harry Arnett (@harryarnett) May 7, 2021


Humanitarian Pause (Tracer Hand), Sunday, 23 June 2024 00:17 (four weeks ago) link

no idea what that last line of my post is doing there

Humanitarian Pause (Tracer Hand), Sunday, 23 June 2024 00:18 (four weeks ago) link

Greil Marcus, of all people--he is from the Bay Area--got a long "Ask Greil" about Willie Mays that he responded to today. I'll only include the last bit of the question; I like his answer.

I'm sure as a Bay Area native, you have fond memories of Willie Mays, as do all baseball fans for his talents were wonderous, but whatever his civil rights battles were, they were mostly private, sad to say. —JAMES R STACHO

I imagine that in some part of his being, every day Willie Mays said to himself, not in these words, but in his own, I am my own revolution. How did he feel that night in 1963 when in the bottom of the 16-inning scoreless tie with Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal on the mound for every pitch he ended it with a home run? Oh, I feel so fine, I am so lucky to be allowed to play this wonderful game? Or was it, Take that, you fuckers. Go back down in the ground, you Klan killers. You’ll never catch me.

A lot of people saw that. A lot of people felt that. There’s no way to measure to what degree Willie Mays might have inspired the people at the Cleveland Summit to do what they did even if he didn’t do it, even if he thought, I had to do my service, go on and do yours--which I doubt.

(The Cleveland Summit being the famous gathering of Black athletes in 1967 to support Ali--not attended by Mays or anybody else from MLB.)

clemenza, Tuesday, 25 June 2024 17:18 (three weeks ago) link

He may well have thought that. I was reading about how Henry “Hank” Aaron* and Jackie Robinson were angry that Mays never spoke out over the racism he and they faced. There’s this interview I always think of, from 2009, totally casual talk to young Giants players:

“My father told me no matter what anybody said, never to fight. Turn the other cheek. I’d call him up and he’d ask, “Did you fight today?’ Back then, you had to make sure you were bigger than those people who called you names. They called you all kinds of names. But I knew for me to get ahead, I had to take all that kind of stuff. Every time somebody called me a name, I hit the ball.’’

I thought of this when watching Reggie Jackson’s comments the other day.

It’s not for me to comment on beyond that but to note what both Aaron & Robinson pointed out: staying silent didn’t spare him the effects of racism.

* = I also didn’t know he HATED being called Hank until recently.

Roman Anthony gets on his horse (gyac), Tuesday, 25 June 2024 18:01 (three weeks ago) link

Finally watched the Reggie interview earlier today--fantastic. (I had to laugh at a couple of side issues: when Reggie included A-Rod on his list of all-time greats, wondered if Jeter did a slow burn; and when Ortiz brought up the HOF, wondered the same about A-Rod.)

"I am my own revolution"--love that.

clemenza, Tuesday, 25 June 2024 18:21 (three weeks ago) link

Any Black player pre-'68 or so had a second overriding fact to deal with aside from society in general: baseball was far more conservative than basketball or football.

clemenza, Tuesday, 25 June 2024 18:24 (three weeks ago) link

Re the Reggie interview: knowing how much all the A's hated Charlie Finley when it came to anything related to money, I thought it was gracious of Jackson to mention Finley walking the team out when his country club wouldn't let Jackson attend a ceremony (they relented).

clemenza, Tuesday, 25 June 2024 18:28 (three weeks ago) link

I haven’t finished this yet but very good piece regarding Mays, Robinson and their respective politics:

Roman Anthony gets on his horse (gyac), Wednesday, 3 July 2024 16:35 (two weeks ago) link

Will read that for sure.

I came across this in the days after but didn't want to post it so soon.

Do I believe the piece? Yes--Allen Barra is an excellent baseball writer.

Does it make me think any less of Mays? Not in the least--if he did have some resentment towards Aaron, I think that would be unfortunate but very human. 1) Mays spent most of his career as the guy who was going to pass Babe Ruth--first him and Mantle, then just him. To see his body break down while Aaron kept going, I'm sure that stung. 2) I could be wrong here, but Mays in the '50s might have led something of a double life. The overwhelming reality was life as a Black player, and all the garbage that went along with that. But maybe he also saw himself as part of New York baseball royalty, along with Mantle and Robinson and Berra and DiMaggio and everyone else. Which, for millions, he was. To see this guy in Milwaukee--and later, playing for a team in the deep South--come along and surpass him, maybe that stung too.

clemenza, Wednesday, 3 July 2024 16:48 (two weeks ago) link

A friend - in his 80s, and a lifelong baseball nut - says: “ I don't think the article got the facts about Henry Aaron right. I always understood that he was outspoken and felt obligated to continue Jackie Robinson's approach.”

Humanitarian Pause (Tracer Hand), Thursday, 4 July 2024 21:34 (two weeks ago) link

The first photo with Durocher was probably the one I saw second-most often in the days after. Weirdly, Mays had his back to the camera for the one I saw most often.

clemenza, Wednesday, 10 July 2024 01:13 (one week ago) link

The two reporters in the locker room are absolutely killing me. These people existed! They weren’t just cartoons!

Humanitarian Pause (Tracer Hand), Wednesday, 10 July 2024 07:15 (one week ago) link

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