In Praise Of Mays

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“Willie Mays makes us young again. He makes us feel good about ourselves, our environment. He makes us reflect and smile. He makes us want to do better and be kinder.”

~ John Shea, sportswriter and co-author, with Mays, of 24: Life Stories And Lessons From The Say Hey Kid

Willie Mays turns 90 today.

He is the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame. That he still attends games, visits the clubhouse to encourage players, does interviews, is one of the game’s greatest ambassadors, and has time leftover to write a memoir, is testament to his legend and greatness.

“I like to help people when I go to the ballpark,” Mays told Shea recently. “Help the Giants. Do what you can do. That’s all. That’s my goal. They helped me when I was a young man, a teenager. They signed me out of Birmingham.”

I have often written on here that Babe Ruth was the greatest ballplayer ever.

But, I think I was wrong. It is Willie, not Babe, who is the greatest ever.

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Playing stickball with neighborhood kids, circa 1954.

“I was always aware that you play baseball for people who paid money to come see you play,” Willie said in his memoir last year. “You play for those people. You want to make them smile, have a good time. Sometimes I’d hesitate, count to three, then I’d get there just in time to make the play. You’d hear the crowd. Sometimes you had to do that in order for people to come back the next day.”

Also, Willie admitted that he wore his cap “one size too small” so it would fly off while he was playing, simply because he thought fans would enjoy watching it fly off.

Willie knows me well, because I spent this Virginia baseball season waiting … waiting … waiting for the moment where I could capture this:

© The Baseball Bloggess, 5/4/2021

© The Baseball Bloggess, 5/4/2021

University of Virginia freshman Kyle Teel, who has had a hard time keeping his batting helmet on all season.

I know someone who was sitting in the Polo Grounds’ bleachers for Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, when Willie did this …


I consider personally knowing someone who witnessed Willie Mays’ “Catch” from the bleachers that day one of the most important bona fides of my Baseball Bloggess’ness.

I write about Willie Mays a lot on here …

175 Miraloma Drive, about the racism Willie encountered in San Francisco as he tried to purchase a house there in 1957, is one of the most-read posts on this site.

Sitting Here Thinking About Willie Mays discusses his first home run in 1951 and another one – an even greater one – in 1963.

Any Ol’ Game: May 22, 1972, SF Giants at LA Dodgers describes my devastation when the Giants traded Willie to the Mets. It includes my still-beloved Willie Mays card and a photo of my young self that I think is best described as California Cool Chick. Cool’ish.

I should write about Willie Mays every day.

Happy birthday, Willie. You are the greatest ballplayer ever.

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21 thoughts on “In Praise Of Mays

  1. Sorry, but I have to stick with Ruth for one simple reason. As far as I know, Mays couldn’t pitch at all and Ruth was the best lefty of the 19-teens as well as a pretty fair hitter. (It’s the old fogey in me)

    • I know … I keep going back and forth on Babe vs Willie. But, I’m content to keep them as tied for first, and still feeling like I could give Willie the edge … with everyone else a distant third. :)

      (I’m taking Willie in the outfield over Babe, though … no contest.)

      OK, maybe I’ll let Henry Aaron slip into the “best ever” conversation, too. And, I know some people will argue for Ted Williams, but …

      Willie and Babe … that’s it for me.

  2. Seems just the other day he was turning 80. Still aMaysing. The fact that you know someone who saw “The Catch” in person is indeed a wonderful brush with fame.! I certainly wouldn’t mind reading about the most exciting player (in my opinion) I have ever seen each day.

    • I know … just think about that! My colleague (who was in the bleachers for Willie’s “catch” that I mentioned in the post) sent this to me yesterday: “One of the greatest sports arguments ever took place then in the five boroughs of NYC – Mays or Mantle or Snider? I never had the slightest doubt of who was the best”

      • I lived near NYC back then. To me, it wasn’t a question of who was the best. That doesn’t really matter. The fact that three great centerfielders were in the same city at the same time was the more amazing thing.

  3. hey jackie. i didn’t know abut Mays wearing his hat small so it’d fall off to make it more exciting for fans. that’s beautiful. it is a great pleasure to see players enjoy playing. the first player today that comes to mind is Jesus Aguilar now of the marlins.

    • I learned about Willie’s cap in the memoir he published last year: “24” with John Shea.

      Imagine all that he was thinking about during a play … that he could hold up and time it just so to make a play more exciting … all the while ensuring his cap flew off to make it even more fun for fans … while still playing the game. That just floors me.

      I think most baseball memoirs tend to be too stats’y or too ghost written’y for my taste, but Willie’s is neither. Leave it to Willie Mays to write the best baseball memoir ever. :)

  4. Here’s my Willie Mays story. I think it was 1955 or1956, which made me either 5 or 6 years old. My father took me to the Polo Grounds for a doubleheader against the Cubs, with Ernie Banks. My father only went to doubleheader’s, thus assuring he got his money’s worth. In the first inning Willie laid down a bunt (imagine that). The throw to first base was wild so he kept running, rounded second and headed toward third. The throw to third got past the third baseman and Willie raced home. Never mind that this was likely scored as two errors, to me, that was a home run

    • I’m with you, that’s a home run in my book, too. And, wow … just wow!

      According to a story in The Athletic, Mays bunted only 13 times in his career … and you were there for one of them. How cool is that!

      (You’ll like this fact, too, I know: Mays’ last bunt was in 1973 with the Mets … which set up the winning run in the 10th inning. The Mets defeated the Giants that day 1-0.)

  5. Hey, only because I don’t have any other way to chat with you…what did you think of Javy Baez and the Pirate’s First Basemen in that amazing play in the Cubs v Pirates the other night?
    Gary and I were waiting for your commentary.

    Well…pooh. I cannot find vid. All I see is commentary. Huh. I know YOU know about this play. You’ll break it down better than others.

    • Oh my! I think we all have those moments when our minds just go blank, right? The only advantage for most of us, is that there’s not thousands of people watching us make silly mistakes. Poor Will Craig. You just want to shake him and say “Step on the bag! All you need to do is … STEP. ON. THE. BAG!”

      On the other hand, Javy Baez’ quick thinking as he runs back from first and then realizes he he HAS to touch first in order for the run to count shows how much baseball requires thinking on the fly.

      (And I agree with the official scoring … E3, E2, no RBI on the play.)

      I loved the Pirates’ play-by-play of this crazy thing … I retweeted it mainly because I loved their line: “The calliopes can heard from here to Sewickley.”

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