Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Say Hey to Willie Mays

Slammin’ Sam on Sports Media

Pound for pound James S. Hirsch’s “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend” rivals Bill Simmons' The Book of Basketball, and boy, does the baseball book pack a punch.

The brand new 628-page offering (a mere 566 pgs. if you exclude the bibliography and index) maintains for the most part the mystique surrounding the greatest living ballplayer. That’s some of what allows Mays to endure in the sports fan’s consciousness. But finally, with Mays’ support, Hirsch permits some light to shine through a window.

Read this book because:

1. It’s hard to believe, but there was a time when Mays wasn’t a sure thing, at least as far as he was concerned.

“What if- What if I don’t make it,” Mays’ voice cracked upon meeting the man responsible for his first big league checks. “I hope I can get into a few games, get a few chances to help. I hope you won’t be sorry.” (2-3, Willie) You mean the Willie Mays doubted himself? He sure did, starting with a 1-26 clip. No matter, the Giants needed him.

While the Dodgers headlined Jackie Robinson, the Yankees countered with Mickey Mantle. Where exactly was the third New York ballclub? In Mays it had better not be left with the likes of Johnny Rucker – the team labeled him as “the new Ty Cobb” – and Clint Hartung, the hurler New Yorkers harangued about like he was Ruth himself. (81)

2. Mays’ biographer Hirsch contextualizes the star in his day, including insights into where he fit in with his hero, Jackie Robinson.

Similarities between the two ballplayers extended little farther than the era they played in and the focused lifestyle they led. Mays could be described as reserved and deliberately distant from controversy; While Robinson demonstrated courage and restraint in terms of his personal life, he refused to be subservient. Mays conversed with umpires; Robinson “was the most difficult ballplayer I had to deal with,” said one umpire.

3. You will get the story behind one of baseball’s most famous plays and so much more.

Long known around the sport for “…throwing long balls that spell OUT for the surprised runner,” (55) the fact that Mays came up with “The Catch” did not seem all together unusual to his family. His cousin Loretta saw the play on TV and recalled Willie making sensational plays washing dishes. “He would throw them up and reach out for them and dive and catch them. That’s where he got that catch from.” (202)

Keep your eye on “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend,” and make sure to snag it when you can.

Sam Miller/Free Keon

1 comment:

  1. Sounds like a winner. I am intruiged and have a lot of respect for ballplayers from the 1930s-1960s for some reason. Thanks for the faithful posts.


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