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.
Defense to me is the key to playing baseball. I know people say, "Well, you’ve got to score runs," but you’ve got to stop them before you can score runs. And I used to love to run every fly ball. — Willie Mays