“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.
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:
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.