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.” Continue reading

Any Ol’ Game: May 22, 1972, SF Giants at LA Dodgers

It has been brought to my attention that my “Any Ol’ Game” pandemic series has been biased by only covering American League games. In my defense, I haven’t even gotten to an Orioles game yet. But, yes, dear reader, you are correct. Let’s fix that.

What better teams to represent the National League than these two …

The San Bernadino County Sun, 5/23/1972

May 22, 1972

It was the first meeting of these legendary rivals since a benches-clearing brawl in September 1971, triggered when Giants pitcher Juan Marichal plunked Dodger Bill Buckner.

Sports Illustrated, 9/27/1971

Giants manager Charlie Fox called the May 22 rematch a “typical donnybrook.”

A Donnybrook, Live and In Color!

But, to be honest, this game doesn’t seem all that donnybrookish to me. No brouhahas, ballyhoos, williwaws, or kerfuffles on this pleasant Monday evening at Dodger Stadium.

But it was still one of baseball’s greatest, orneriest rivalries.

Need a ticket to the game? EBay has this one … just $10.

The Giants would defeat the Dodgers 9-8, thanks in no small part to 5 RBI from the Giants young slugger Dave Kingman.

Kingman proclaimed: “Beating the Dodgers is the biggest thrill in baseball to me. If I could put all my hits together I would hope they were against the Dodgers.”

This is, I’m sure you’ll agree, one of the greatest sports quotes ever. Continue reading

175 Miraloma Drive

Here I am, trapped in a house. You, too? My house is everything to me now – workplace, coffee shop, theater, restaurant, library, Yoga studio. Everything.

It’s not perfect. It needs a paint job. But, it’s doing its best to keep me and Editor/Husband in and coronavirus out.

I am grateful for this house. I love it. Really, I do. But, I can’t wait to get out of it.

Being in this house is the whole of my world right now.

So, maybe it’s not so odd to rediscover the story of another house and the effort to keep someone out of it.

It’s not an unknown story. You probably know it. But, this story of Willie Mays and his house is a reminder of how far we’ve come … and how not far we’ve come at all.

Toward the end of the 1957 season, the New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers formally announced that both teams would move to California in 1958.


The Giants last game at the Polo Grounds.

As soon as the season wrapped, Giants players began packing themselves up, looking for new homes in San Francisco.

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Willie Mays – by 1957, one of baseball’s biggest superstars – was one of them. Continue reading

You’re Not Losing, Because You Haven’t Lost Yet

You know what’s a great baseball movie? The Bad News Bears. That’s a pretty great baseball movie.

bad news bears

The original one.

Field of Dreams is an ok baseball movie.

So what if it made you cry? That doesn’t make it a great movie.

Lots of lousy things can make you cry. Fussy contact lenses, broken legs, dropping your ice cream.

This one-minute home video is as good as any movie. Cute characters. Drama. Tragedy. Loss. Heartbreak. Happy ending. (Plus, the kid’s hair swirls just like his ice cream.)

But, back for just a sec’ to Field of Dreams. As the movie winds down, Kevin Costner’s character, picks up his baseball glove, turns to his ghost father, and says, “Hey … dad? Wanna have a catch?”

Wanna have a catch?

If I asked my dad if he wanted to have a catch, he would have looked at me funny and said, “Play catch. It’s play catch, not have a catch. What the hell are they teaching you in school?”

I figured “have a catch” was just some insipid, affected phrase that the movie came up with.

Until I looked around.


Bet you weren’t expecting Shakespeare.

In Twelfth Night, which is Shakespeare (and, no, I did not know this, but the Internet can make you seem way smarter than you actually are), Sir Toby Belch says, “Welcome, ass. Now, let’s have a catch.”

“Welcome, ass,” sounds way more Bad News Bears than Field of Dreams and has encouraged me to rethink my Shakespeare.

Smart people will explain that Shakespeare’s “Welcome, ass. Now, let’s have a catch.” means “Hey stupid. Sing us a song.” Seriously? That makes no sense.

Never mind. I’m not rethinking Shakespeare.

But, Sir Toby Belch is an awesome name. Like a baseball mascot. So, credit for that.

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Make room for Sir Toby Belch.

At first, I couldn’t find a pre-Field of Dreams reference to “have a catch” except for Shakespeare. I was ready to say, “Yup, Field of Dreams just made it up.”

But, then I found this.

In May 1953, Washington Post sportswriter Shirley Povich was profiling Willie Mays.

In that piece he wrote: “Willie didn’t bother to learn the names of his Giants’ teammates. ‘Say, Hey,’ was his favorite salutation. ‘Say, Hey, wanna have a catch,’ ‘Say, Hey, we gonna beat ‘em good to-day.’ They in turn called him ‘Say, Hey Willie.’”

Say, Hey, wanna have a catch?

So, if you’re Kevin Costner or Sir Toby Belch, go with ‘have a catch’ if you want. If Willie Mays said it, then I’m willing to concede it’s ok.

But, it still sounds a bit weird and la-dee-dah to me.

It’s play catch.

dad in modesto ca

Dad. Not having a catch.

My dad and I didn’t play much catch when I was growing up anyway. Mostly we played basketball together because that was his thing.

And, we shot free throws. Lots and lots of free throws. Because, free throws are something you can get right. And, so he taught me the free throw he knew I could practice and get right.

The same free throw Rick Barry used. The same one Barry also taught his kids.

The embarrassing and ugly one. But, if you practiced, it was the one that would always go in.

It was better, my dad would say, to get the point regardless of how silly you looked doing it.

Don’t say stupid things. That was something else my dad taught me.

Like “have a catch.”

Or, “It’s 13-2, the Orioles are losing.”

If my dad were around today he would grumble about that.

“They’re not losing,” he would say, “they’re just behind.”

This was his rule and he would always correct me when I got it wrong.

As he would explain it, if the game isn’t over, your team hasn’t lost, so they’re not losing. As long as there’s hope, they’re not losing, they’re just behind.

And, don’t say your team is winning either. Your team hasn’t won yet, things can change. They’re just ahead.

“You’re not losing, because you haven’t lost yet.”

He wasn’t exactly correct about this, but he wasn’t wrong either. It was his rule and I stick to it today.

As for the Orioles on Friday night, he was right. They weren’t losing 13-2. They were just behind.

Because, they “rallied” in the bottom of the 9th to make it was 13-3 and that was how they lost.

Yup, things can change. (But, not enough when the pitchers desert you.)

My dad was fussy about things. Things should be just-so. And, even though he’s been gone nearly 10 years, I try to remember the rules he taught me.

And, I’ve become fussy, too, about things. Like serial commas. Proper punctuation. And, always running out ground balls because you never know when a little mistake by the other team might be all you need. Because, you haven’t lost yet.


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.

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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.

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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.

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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, here’s Mays and Marichal 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.

Skizzle, Sweet Skizzle.

The bases in baseball might have been imagined in the 19th century, but their beginnings were probably much earlier than that. Historians often reach back to the 18th or even 17th centuries to find something undeniably baseball-ish about the games children played.

(Historian David Block can take it all the way back to 1450.)

(There are a lot of very good baseball historians in the world today. You could probably fill Wrigley Field’s bleachers with them and have to pour the overflow historians into Fenway. Football historians, on the other hand, can easily be transported in a minivan.)

Bases are the grail for many historians. If a game had you run to a specified point or “base,” you were probably playing some form of baseball.

But I think if they were inventing baseball today, there would be no “Home.”

Oh, the base would be there … the plate, the dish, it has a few different names. The umpire might still ceremoniously dust it off with a whisk broom from time to time, and it would still be 60 feet 6 inches from the pitcher. But, I don’t think we would call it “home.”

We might call it a Blast Pad, a Stamping Stone, or the Swat Zone. Those all sound cool, right?

Or, more likely, we’d just make up a word. The Skizzle! The Bagzooka! The Scoreatorium!

(God, I’m bad at this.)

Two minutes of Blast Pad Bliss!

But, surely not “home” … which conjures up images of the kindness of mom and cookies and soup and underwear hanging on the line.

And, unlike baseball, the place in life where you start and then you end isn’t always the same “home.”

I’m not even sure I know what a hometown is. Is that where I was born? Where I grew up? Or, where I’m living now? Because I can call each of them “home.”  And, they are all quite different places. (The ocean is on the other side now.)

I don’t really remember much about where I was born.  We moved when I was still mini-sized. (I was born in the same hospital as Robin Ventura, by the way. So I’ll always have a little hometown kinship with him. And, I never liked Nolan Ryan.)

Then we moved to another part of California. And, when I was old enough, my dad taught me about “home teams.” And, since we lived near the Bay Area, I became a Giants-A’s-49ers-Raiders fan.

(It really stinks being on a football boycott when the 49ers are doing so well. Or, leastways, that’s what I’ve been told.)

My dad schooled me in football. My little-girl baseball knowledge pretty much boiled down to ranking the players on my baseball cards on a highly precise and carefully researched Cutie Pie Scale. (Oakland A’s? Very cutie pie.)

I showed flashes of home team spirit, as seen here when I firmly and sadly crossed “GIANTS” off of my Willie Mays’ card when he went to the Mets.

willie mays card

Even then, I was conflicted by what home means. If Willie Mays was no longer a Giant, what was the point? What good is having a home, if no one is going to stay there?

Then we moved.

(Please enjoy this brief interlude as I spend nearly 10 home-team-less years in North Dakota.)

The East Coast, above-zero temperatures, and my very first real live baseball game couldn’t come fast enough.

I tell this story a lot, and it is true. When I stepped out of the cement walkway and into the upper deck of Baltimore’s Memorial Stadium for the very first time, I saw the green grass and the diamond spread out before me.

And, I looked, and I said to myself, “I’m home.”

So, maybe the Orioles aren’t technically my “home” team, since they’re 126 miles – and lots of traffic – away. Does it matter anymore where you actually live? Or, do we define home differently now?

Baseball players, themselves, are nomads. They are shuttled around from team to team, town to town. There are few Cal Ripkens left out there who get to play every day for their own hometown team.

Home plate may be the only “home” a player can count on during his career.

(And, woe to the American League pitcher who only gets a look at “home” and never gets to actually go there.)

Fans have cable and the internet and can watch any game from practically anywhere in the world. Live.

I can listen to Vin Scully call a Dodgers game thousands of miles away. Jon Miller, who I missed for so many years, now comes through loud and clear calling Giants games on my Sirius Radio.

Anywhere can be home. And, if anywhere is home, maybe home isn’t the same thing that it once was.

In baseball, home is where you start and where you hope you end up. You’ll run around for awhile, but, if all goes well you’ll end up again at home, right where you started.

In baseball, that’ll earn you a run.

In life, I’m not sure what that gets you anymore. Sometimes, if you end up back at home – to sleep, perhaps, in your parents’ basement – it’s because things haven’t quite worked out so well in life.

I think my home is right here, right now. With my Editor/Husband, the bushel of cats, and the brand-new barn (and unfinished porch). I like coming home. To here.

Skizzle, Sweet Skizzle.

good morning barn2