Happy Belated Birthday, Willie

Willie Mays turned 75 yesterday.  I’m old enough to actually remember Willie Mays playing, as a Giant and as a Met.  Like any other child of the Bay area, my first heroes were Giants.

I remember reading about the chase for Ruth’s homerun record in baseball magazines of the time, and finding it shocking that Aaron was thought to be more likely to break the record than Mays or Mantle.  Hammerin’ Hank never had the appeal of The Mick or Say Hey Willie.

Oddly, by his own account, Willie didn’t seem destined to be a home run hitter.  He was too small, and took as much delight in robbing another player of a homerun as he did hitting one himself.  The Twins Tori Hunter said something to that effect on a commercial.  I’ve often wondered why climbing the fence and snatching a sure dinger isn’t as appreciated as a homerun itself.  It has as profound of an effect on the outcome of the game as a homer, only in reverse.  If there were statistics for that there would be a history, and records to be broken, and baseball itself might be viewed differently.  We forget that we view baseball through a glass, a filter of perceptions based on the story that is being sold.

It is fitting that Mays is remembered as much for a defensive play as his offensive prowess.  The Catch in the 1954 World Series will live on forever in baseball lore.

Willie might have passed the Babe himself if he had not played much of his career in San Francisco.  But the answer to that question was consigned long ago consumed to the swirling winds of Candlestick Park.


One comment

  1. Kellia

    Did you ever see Willie’s Pink Caddy with the Say Hey license plates at Shea? I did several times.

    Someone, I don’t remember who, felt the swirling winds at Candlestick for the first time, and said that if Willie had played anywhere else, “he would have hit 800.” Ball park locations and configurations certainly impact the game. How many long singles against the Great Green Monster at Fenway Park would have been homers elsewhere? How many flies to the short right field porch of Yankee Stadium would have been outs elsewhere?

    Some of us appreciate run-saving outfield defense. You can bet that as a Byrnes fan I certainly do. And I can tell from my stats report that people are still Googling for accounts of Bo Jackson climbing the wall to rob a homer. That was one of the gretest plays I ever saw. (On TV of course!)



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