Friday, May 06, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday, Willie Mays!

The 80th birthday Willie Mays is a big deal for your correspondent, a San Francisco Giants fan since he was old enough to comprehend the sport.

Willie celebrated his 80th birthday in style, with a luncheon bash, followed by the pre-game ceremony at the opener of the weekend series between the Giants and the Colorado Rockies.

Standing beside Mr. Mays at the festivities were fellow Hall Of Famers Willie "Stretch" McCovey, Gaylord Perry and Orlando "The Baby Bull" Cepeda, as well as two gentlemen who played with Willie on The Birmingham Black Barons in the 1940's! The game that followed turned out to be a thrilling come-from-behind walkoff 4-3 victory over the formidable Rockies.

Mr. Mays is unsurpassed in baseball legend, but arguably equaled by George Herman "Babe" Ruth, who only tore up the American League with 714 dingers, 2213 RBIS and a .342 average after a career as a dominant pitcher.

There have been great hitters (Ted Williams, Barry Bonds), paragons of consistency in the excellence of their all-around game (Henry Aaron, Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio), baserunning daredevils (Maury Wills, Lou Brock, Ricky Henderson) who changed the nature of baseball, guys who inspired with clutch hits, amazing throws from the warning track and sheer swagger (Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente), but none combined all of the above quite like Willie Mays.

Willie was also known as a singularly brilliant baseball strategist, a coach on the field, often trusted by managers to relay the latest and greatest signs to his teammates from his roving outfield post. Chris Haft of penned a superlative tribute focusing on Willie's Jedi Master or chess champion baseball mind.

Any discussion of the Say Hey Kid and Sunday sermon in the hallowed halls of the Holy Temple Of Major League Baseball, first and foremost, begins with viewing of a certain play Willie made in the far Siberian depths of center field at New York's Polo Grounds.

If that the catch and throw of the screaming line drive off the bat of the Cleveland Indians' Vic Wertz did not impress the living daylights out of you, dear reader, consider that the game-winning play took place in the freakin' 1954 World Series and emphatically took the oxygen out of the Giants' opponents.

The website of Psychotronic Paul favorite The Daily Show features an interview of The Say Hey Kid by witty comedian and rabid baseball fan Jon Stewart. Even better among the various interviews with Willie available on YouTube are the following splendid two-parter:

Thankfully, Willie, a frequent visitor to the Giants' clubhouse, got to relish the first San Francisco Giants World Series victory in 2010, take the trophy to New York, visit the elementary school he attended and share baseball lore with East Coast baseball fans, some of whom were there for the Giants' upset of the mighty 111-43 Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series.

In the city of San Francisco, May 6 is officially Willie Mays Day. SAY HEY!

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