Sitting Here Thinking About Willie Mays

Warning: Editor/Husband has been sick and in bed since Christmas Eve. This means that I am a) most likely highly contagious, and b) posting without an editor. If you cut out now, I’ll understand. (I’ll be deeply hurt, but I’ll understand.) (Sort of. I’ll sort of understand.)

Someone found this blog by searching for this:

shoeless drunk

Shoeless drunk?

First of all, I’m very disappointed in you, Internet. Second of all, I wonder what that person was looking for?

I searched for “shoeless drunk” on the Googler and I didn’t find me. (What I did find was disgusting, with the exception of a few movie stills from 1967’s “Barefoot in the Park,” starring Robert Redford and Jane Fonda.)

barefoot in the park

In writing about baseball, there is always Shoeless Joe Jackson and quite a number of drunks, so maybe it wasn’t such a stretch after all that someone landed here.

Shoeless Joe Jackson, 1919.

Shoeless Joe may have never really been shoeless, as he occasionally denied the story of ever playing in his stocking feet in the minor leagues.  But, he also occasionally said the story was true, so who’s to know?

Also, no distraught kid ever tugged his sleeve outside a Chicago courthouse and said, “Say it ain’t so,” when the White Sox were found to have tossed the 1919 World Series.

But, Damon Runyon did say this: “Even when he’s trying to throw a Series, Shoeless Joe Jackson can still hit .375.”

This led me to wonder when Joe Jackson died.

December 5, 1951. He was 64 and several hundred people attended his funeral in Greenville, South Carolina.

This led me to wonder, in a tangent I can’t explain, when Willie Mays hit his first home run.

And, it was 1951, too. May 28.

As most baseball fans know, Mays’ first home run was also his first hit as a big leaguer. He had gone 0-for-12 in his first three games. This was his first home at-bat at the New York Giant’s Polo Grounds.

The home run was, The New York Times said, “a towering poke that landed atop the left-field roof.”

The homer, off the Boston Braves’ Warren Spahn, wasn’t enough. The Braves defeated the Giants that night, 4-1.

Embed from Getty Images

Willie Mays.

Historian Charles Einstein shared these quotes from that game:

“You know, if that’s the only home run he ever hits, they’ll still talk about it.” ~ Russ Hodges, who called the game on radio that night. (And, look … he’s right!)

“For the first 60 feet it was a hell of a pitch.” ~ Spahn, who said he threw a fastball as his first pitch to Mays because he was sure Giants’ manager Leo Durocher had told Mays to lay off the first pitch. (Durocher hadn’t.) Or, maybe it was a curve ball, which scouts said Mays couldn’t hit, as Spahn remembered it in 1973.

“The ball came down in Utica. I know. I was managing there at the time.” ~ Lefty Gomez (This would be an even better quote if Gomez actually had been managing in Utica at the time. He hadn’t. But, it’s still pretty good.)

“I never saw a f*ing ball get out of a f*ing ball park so f*ing fast in my f*ing life.” ~ Leo Durocher

I can’t show you that home run, of course, because the Internet and MLB.TV hadn’t been invented yet.

Warren Spahn.

Mays would hit 17 more home runs off of Spahn including one in the 16th inning of a game on July 2, 1963.

By 1963, the Giants were in San Francisco and the Braves were in Milwaukee.

Mays’ walk-off home run off Spahn in the 16th ended one of baseball’s most awesome pitching performances: 42-year-old Spahn, for the Braves, and 25-year-old Juan Marichal, for the Giants, threw a combined 428 pitches through those 16 innings.

The Giants won 1-0. 

“It was a screwball,” Mays said following the game, “But I guess Warren was getting kind of tired.”

“Yes, I was tired,” Spahn said, “But, I wish Willie had been tired, too.”

I can’t show you that home run either. But, I can show you Marichal and Mays talking about it …

“Ok, let me see what I can do about it.”

(Giants fans of a certain age will insist that Willie McCovey’s foul ball in the bottom of the 9th was actually inside the foul pole and should have been the home run that ended the game. McCovey will tell you that, too. But, like the Internet, batting helmets, and wild card teams, instant replay hadn’t been invented yet.)

And, so here it is Boxing Day and Editor/Husband is still feeling crummy and is fast asleep in the room next door. He will dislike this post when he sees it, because it just wanders around pointless.

Just sitting here thinking about Willie Mays.

24 thoughts on “Sitting Here Thinking About Willie Mays

  1. Like instant replay (but not batting helmets- I guess), I wish the MLB network had never been invented. Until I was well into my adulthood, if I wanted to watch a baseball game, I just turned on the TV of an evening, and there it was likely to be, on one of what we used to call the “major networks”. Then the local games got blacked out- understandable, even if I didn’t like it- and then, bit by bit, the games started being shown only on cable, until now only the World Series is shown on network TV, and I have a bad feeling that’s not going to go on much longer.

    Okay, I could just knuckle under and get cable- but, my wife and I really don’t want to do that. We don’t, in fact, watch much TV at all, these days. We watch some great drama on Roku, a season behind (which is fine with us), and a movie or two a week, but both of us are afraid that if we ever got cable it would eat our lives; not an unrealistic fear. Plus, there is the not inconsiderable expense.

    So, unless I’m sitting at a bar, my experience of baseball, the whole year through, is radio broadcasts, just like when I was a kid. Notice, I’m not mentioning actually going to a game, despite having two major league teams- the Giants and the A’s- in the area. I do go to a few games a year, but the Giants have pretty much priced themselves out of all but the “very special occasions” bracket, and the A’s- well, the owners treat Oakland fans with open contempt, making it clear that the team is only playing in this Godforsaken town until they can find someplace- anyplace- better to play. Makes it pretty hard to want to support the local nine.

    So, speaking of wandering, there’s my wandering dilemma as a baseball fan. Sometimes I feel like I love the sport, but it doesn’t love me, anymore, unless I can get rich, or overlook the insult.
    Maybe I’m taking it all too personally, but, dammit, it’s baseball. It’s made to take personally, one way or another. It’s not like you really have a choice, right?

    • Oh, I love having all the games on MLB Extra Innings via satellite (and the radio equivalent on Sirius Radio). Not only can we sit and watch (or listen to) any game we wish, we get the local home and away feeds, which gives us local color, hometown broadcasters, and local commercials. It’s quite fun … and much better than the national broadcasts. Plus, it allows us to enjoy Vin Scully and my beloved Jon Miller all season long.

      Actually, even without cable, there’s still baseball on the networks beyond the World Series. Fox offers Saturday games nearly every week during the season.

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting! :)

  2. I might argue that the “greatest game ever pitched” was another game. When Koufax had hi perfect game, the other guy only gave up one hit and it didn’t factor in the 1-0 score (a walk, stolen base, and an error). You could also make a case for 1991 World Series game 7. Everybody knows Morris, but Smoltz pitched a heck of a game also.
    Nice post. Never a bad thing to be “thinking about Willie Mays.” Now go give that editor some good ole TLC. :-)
    v

    • Thanks, v. I know, I agree about this greatest game pitched thing. I was sort of surprised that it was called the “greatest game ever pitched” … and I was careful to say it was “one of the most amazing” when I described it.

      I once wrote about a 20-inning complete game tossed by Cy Young vs. Rube Waddell in 1905, and that seemed like it might have been the greatest ever, too. Plus, it included people shooting revolvers and fireworks … AND it was on the 4th of July, which sort of makes it even more colorful: https://thebaseballbloggess.com/2014/07/04/waddell-young-1905/

      Editor/husband is stirring around a bit now. That’s always a good sign. :)

  3. You can never go wrong thinking about Willie. As a kid growing up, he became my favorite player. even living in South Florida as I did.
    You can also not go too wrong thinking about Warren Spahn. In addition to being a HOF pitcher, he was also a decorated war hero in WW2.
    I only found your blog about 2 months ago, but I do enjoy it. Wish I had found you sooner.

    • Thanks so much for stopping by … any fan of Willie’s is a friend of mine! :) And, yes, I was delighted to wander into a story that also included Warren Spahn … thank you for additionally reminding us of his World War II service. (Willie Mays served in the army in 1952 and 1953, but was never posted outside of the United States.)

      You spurred me to look up some more regarding Spahn’s service and I learned that he was the most decorated ballplayer to serve in World War II — he earned a Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a battlefield promotion from Staff Sergeant to 2nd Lieutenant, and a Presidential Citation.

      I also learned that he was named after Warren Harding — far and away the worst and most scandalous president in American history. Spahn certainly brought honor back to the name, didn’t he? :)

      • Please go to baseballinwartime.com.
        Look up Ralph Houk. I believe he was more decorated than Spahn was. Silver Star, Bronze Star with cluster ( meaning second award) and Purple Heart. Although that takes absolutely nothing away from Spahn’s heroism.
        But anyhow, I enjoy your posts. Even the wandering ones.

        • Oh yes, it looks like you are correct! I was going by what SABR reported in their biography of Spahn, but it certainly seems that Houk is at least equally — if not more — decorated than Spahn. I wonder if SABR simply determined that the Presidential Citation to Spahn’s unit trumped other awards? I’m not sure how things like this are quantified. In any event, I’m glad you mentioned it … and I’m delighted to have had the chance to learn a bit more!

    • Editor/Husband is finally up and around today … I’m just trying to make sure I duck out of the way of any lingering germs. He finally read this post and said, “Are you sure it was a NIGHT game in 1951 at the Polo Grounds?” And, I had to double check, and, indeed, the NY Times was clear it was a night game — and, because it was also Willie’s first game at the Polo Grounds, it was the Polo Ground’s best attended night game of the season up to then. So, whew, I was correct. But, it was a nice reminder of why I have an editor … to catch those little things that I might otherwise miss. I hope you had a Happy Christmas, T. Wayne!

  4. This is probably not OK, but I didn’t read every word. I did watch you video, and felt in retrospect for the Braves. Anyone with a 42-year-old pitcher should win. May your husband feel better soon. May your amazing immune system kick in and keep you healthy. Cheers —

    • Thanks, J.B. Yes, I see your point about Spahn … although Willie was 32 at the time, so he was considered something of an old man at the time, too. But, I do hold a spot in my heart for those over-40 players who can show the young’uns a thing or two …

      Husband is up and around and, finger’s crossed, I’ve avoided his bio-germs. (I probably should knock wood, just in case.)

  5. Funny that you were thinking about Willie Mays. I just finished Allen Barra’s book “Mickey and Willie: Mantle and Mays, the Parallel Lives of Baseball’s Golden Era”. I am now reading Jim Kaplan’s book, “The Greatest Game Ever Pitched: Juan Marichal, Warren Spahn, and the Pitching Dual of the Century”.

    • KL, I’ve heard about the book “Mickey & Willie” and was thinking about reading it. It sounds right up my alley. What did you think of it? And, I’ve heard the Kaplan book is wonderful. I’m just about to tuck into Maraniss’ book on Roberto Clemente … but let me know what you think of the two books you mentioned, I may have to adjust my reading accordingly!

    • P.S. KL, Are you the Kevin Mitchell who wrote “Last Train To Cooperstown”? Pete Hill is from this area (I’m near Culpeper, VA) and I did a museum exhibit celebrating him at the local Culpeper museum a few years ago. What a great player and it’s been so nice to be able to honor him here in Virginia. I’m honored you stopped by my blog!

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