Thursday, March 4, 2010

Say Hey.

My childhood hero is in publishing news these days. I probably would not mention it, but since I am reading the newly published biography, and because I am beginning to smell the sweet aroma of spring training's freshly mowed grass, I thought I would say a few words about the greatest player ever to play the game called baseball.

Those of you old enough to recognize the title, Say Hey, know that I am referring to Willie Mays.

In 1960, when I was eight years old, Willie Mays had been a professional baseball for nine years, but it was about then that I began to notice him. I'm not sure how or why, I was a Phillies fan. No one told me Willie Mays was a great player, no one else in my family followed him. I can only guess that I was captivated by the way he played the game.

Mays did it all. He hit for percentage and power, he was a base stealer, he caught anything near him in the field, and he had an accurate and powerful throw after a catch. There was no weak spot in the game of Willie Mays. None. And he did it all with a composed enthusiasm that made you want more. One example of this was his signature "basket-catch." When a bloop fly ball was hit to him, he'd get under it, glove closed at his waist, and make the catch, not head high like everyone else catches, but at his belt. It was like he was saying, "I'm not even going to raise my arm for this one." It's a bit hackneyed, but in Mays' case it was true, he made the game look easy. The only player in modern times to play a game so well and with such vitality is Michael Jordon. Mays was to baseball what Jordon was to basketball.

I know there are many great players in baseball. But none of them compare to Mays as the overall best. Not Mantle, not DiMaggio, not Williams, not even the Babe, himself. Willie was better than them all.

Willie Mays is one of the few players in all of sport where a word was assigned to describe a play that was made.  I am referring to "The Catch."  A play that is considered by everyone to be one of the greatest defensive plays in the history of baseball.

Before the days of frequently televised games, young boys learned about a favorite player by listening to the games on the radio, and by reading a player's box-score statistics in the newspaper. I listened every night to the Philadelphia Phillies, Willie played on the San Francisco Giants, so my only chance to follow him live was when the two teams played, or during the All-Star game (he played in 24 of them). The every-day information came from the box-scores, which are a listing of the player's statistics for a game or a season. My daily sports page ritual was to pull the sports page from the paper, and before scrolling through the Phillies lineup, to find the Giants' game and Mays' daily "stats." They looked something like this:
Mays, W. 4 - 2 - 2. 
The more hits and rbi, the better I felt -- and the more convinced I was that nobody played the game like him.

Thanks Willie. I sure am enjoying the book.

You can see "the Catch" on youtube here:

The Catch:

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