Mays Is 70
The month of May was always Willie Mays’ time. Willie Howard Mays was
born on May 6, 1931 in Westfield, Alabama - 69 years ago today.
New York Giants called him up on the 15th of May in 1951 from Minneapolis
in the American Association. He was bating .477 after 35 games.
Schumacher, publicist for the Giants at that time, recalled the first time
he ever saw Mays.
Giants were on their way from Chicago to Philadelphia to conclude the last
three games of a road trip,” Schumacher said. “I was by the front door
of the Giants’ office on Times Square. Suddenly, this kid comes in.
There were always a lot of kids coming around; some of them wanted tickets
and some wanted tryouts. He was carrying a few bats in one hand and a bag
in the other that contained his glove and spikes. He was wearing the most
unusual cap I ever saw, plaid colored. When I found out who he was, we
bought him some clothes and then sent him to Philadelphia to join the
club. He was wearing the new clothes when he left, but funny thing - he
refused to take off that funny cap.
made his major league debut with the Giants on May 25, 1951. But his start
in the majors after just 116 minor leagues games was a shaky one. He was
hitless in his first 12 at-bats, cried in the dugout and said, "I am
not ready for this". He begged manager Leo Durocher to send him back
down to the minors.
“Leo the Lip” refused to listen to the pleas of the rookie center
fielder just as another Giant manager John J. McGraw had refused to send a
youthful Mel Ott to the minors.
my center fielder as long as I am the manager of this team," Durocher
said. "You're the best center fielder I have ever seen."
first home run was off the great Warren Spahn. He hit it over the roof of
the Polo Grounds.
had a meeting of the pitchers," Spahn recalls. "We knew Mays was
having trouble. I'll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of
Willie forever if I'd only struck him out."
Pittsburgh's old Forbes Field, Rocky Nelson blasted a drive 457 feet to
deep dead center. Galloping back, Mays realized as his feet hit the
warning track that the ball was hooking to his right side. The ball was
sinking and Mays could not reach across his body to glove the drive. So
just as the ball got to his level, Mays stuck out his bare hand and made
the catch. It was an incredible feat.
told all the Giants to give Mays the silent treatment when he returned to
the dugout. But Pittsburgh's General Manager Branch Ricky sent the Giant
rookie a hastily written note: "That was the finest catch I have ever
seen ... and the finest I ever expect to see".
is that catch and so many others. There are also the images of Mays
playing stickball in the streets of Harlem with neighborhood kids, running
out from under his cap pursuing a fly ball, pounding one of his 660 career
home runs, playing the game with a verve, a gusto, and an attitude that
awed those who were around him.
could do everything from the day he joined the Giants," Durocher
loved him," notes his former teammate Monte Irvin. "He was a
rare talent. Having him on your team playing center field gave us
confidence. We figured that if a ball stayed in the park, he could catch
was The Natural. He led the NL in slugging percentage five times. He won
the home run crown four times. Twice, he won the NL MVP Award.
lit up a room when he came in," Durocher said.
superstar of superstars, the man they called the "Say Hey Kid"
was on the scene for 22 major-league seasons. He is all over the record
book and in the memory of so many baseball fans.
Birthday, Willie Mays!
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Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
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STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
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