Today, the man that many consider the greatest baseball player of all time turns 84. Following Jackie Robinson, the great Willie Mays was one of Major League Baseball’s first African-American players.
Willie set the standard for all five aspects of the game:
(1) POWER HITTING: 660 home runs,third (at the time) behind Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron
(2) HITTING FOR AVERAGE: A lifetime :302 hitter.
(3) THE GLOVE: An excellent outfielder virtually creating ‘basket catches”, as no-one had before him.
(4) SPEED: Willie stole 338 bases in a 22 year career.
(5) ARM STRENGTH: He could throw out a base runner from a mile away.
My first baseball game ever featured Mays, along with fellow (future) Hall Of Famers Willie Mc Covey, Juan Marichal,Gaylord Perry, Orlando Cepeda, Johnny Bench, and one who should be there, Pete Rose.
I had the pleasure of meeting Willie at Hollywood Park about a dozen years ago. I bought a picture for Willie to sign telling the vendor, “I will really enjoy speaking with Willie.”
The vendor said “Willie won’t talk to you, he doesn’t speak when he’s signing.”
I confidently replied: “Willie WILL speak to me.”
The vendor said “If he speaks to you, I will give you another picture of Willie for free.”
I approached the very quiet Willie, handed him the first picture and said to him, “You always stepped on first base while entering or exiting the field on your way to/from center”. Willie’s eyes gleamed. He looked up at me and said,”No-one has ever said that to me before.”
He shook my hand, and I returned to the vendor for my free picture. Willie signed that one too. I gave it to a friend.