Back in 1994, I bought some beverage from McDonald’s and I ended up with a Willie Mays glass. It features a replica of his 1957 baseball card when he played with the New York Giants. That was the team’s last year at the Polo Grounds, before moving to San Francisco. (I still have the glass.) His days in New York were immortalized by a Terry Cashman song, and there was also Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song) by The Treniers.
My first recollection of a World Series was in 1962. It was difficult for me because my two favorite teams at the time were playing. My hometown Triplets was long a Yankee farm team, so I had a rooting interest in the team of Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford and Elston Howard. But I don’t know what attracted me to the team now playing across the country in San Francisco, unless it was the players: Juan Marichal, Willie “Stretch” McCovey, Felipe and Matty Alou, and the “Say Hey Kid”, Willie Mays. I thought he was the best baseball player ever – he could hit for power, hit for average, steal bases, play great defense. (The Yankees won that Series, four games to three.)
When I went to Cooperstown one year, I got to buy this plastic figurine of Willie. I loved it. The arms even moved! Then the dog bit off one of his feet, and one of the arms (the one with the glove) fell off, but I kept it for a good long time anyway.
It must have been because he batted .211 in his final season, as a New York Met, that kept some people from voting him into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, but he still got 409 votes or 94.68% of the votes cast anyway and was elected in 1979.
He was present when his godson, Barry Bonds, son of his former teammate Bobby Bonds, tied his home run mark of 660 early in 2004. Unfortunately, Barry’s blasts are mired in a steroidal dispute, whereas the kid who used to play stickball on the streets of New York City, even after he became a star, will have a legacy untouched by such controversy.