Willie Mays

Rickwood Field

I have a postcard with this on the back which I bought in Cooperstown at least 30 years ago.

On May 6, 2006, I wrote:  “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.)”

Not only did I have the glass, it was in the cabinet with other drinking glasses. I never used it. The rest of my family did. My wife used it on the morning of June 18 to drink water. When I learned that Willie Mays had died, I wrapped the glass in plastic and put it in a box to keep it. It could have broken any time during the previous quarter century, but only then did I know I needed to retire it.

I noted:  “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.”


I also wrote about him on May 6, 2011.  Suffice it to say,  Willie Mays was my favorite player. Not only that, I decided I loved San Francisco long before I had visited there, in large part because the Say Hey Kid played there.

The 1962 World Series was difficult for me because the New York Yankees, the parent team of the minor league Triplets of Binghamton, with Ford, Howard, Tresh, Richardson, Mantle, and ROGER Maris against the San Francisco Giants of Cepeda, McCovey, Davenport, Alou, Alou, Marichal, and of course, Mays.  It was a great Series, with the NYY winning Game 7, 1-0.

The loss pained him. So the World Series victories by the Giants in 2010, 2012, and 2014 reportedly thrilled him, especially the first one.  

The Globe

I could give you the stats. From the Boston Globe (paywall likely):

“Over 22 MLB seasons, virtually all with the New York/San Francisco Giants, Mays batted .301, hit 660 home runs, totaled 3,293 hits, scored more than 2,000 runs, and won 12 Gold Gloves. He was Rookie of the Year in 1951, twice was named the Most Valuable Player, and finished in the top 10 for the MVP 10 other times. His lightning sprint and over-the-shoulder grab of an apparent extra-base hit in the 1954 World Series remains the most celebrated defensive play in baseball history.

“He was voted into the Hall in 1979, his first year of eligibility, and in 1999 followed only Babe Ruth on The Sporting News’ list of the game’s top stars. (Statistician Bill James ranked him third, behind Ruth and Honus Wagner). The Giants retired his uniform number, 24, and set their AT&T Park in San Francisco on Willie Mays Plaza.” The center fielder had been baseball’s oldest living Hall of Famer. 

But it wasn’t just his enormous five-tools talent, but his effervescent personality. “For millions in the 1950s and ‘60s and after, the smiling ball player with the friendly, high-pitched voice was a signature athlete and showman during an era when baseball was still the signature pastime. Awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in 2015, Mays left his fans with countless memories.”

The Times

From the New York Times: “Mays captured the ardor of baseball fans at a time when Black players were still emerging in the major leagues and segregation remained untrammeled in his native South. He was revered in Black neighborhoods, especially in Harlem, where he played stickball with youngsters outside his apartment on St. Nicholas Place — not far from the Polo Grounds, where the Giants played — and he was treated like visiting royalty at the original Red Rooster, one of Harlem’s most popular restaurants in his day.”


I was afraid he was unwell when he declined to attend a Major League League game played in his native Alabama. “Rickwood Field is the oldest still-existing professional ballpark in the nation, and it’s best known for being the home of the Negro Leagues’ Birmingham Black Barons in the early-mid 20th century, a franchise that produced eventual Hall of Famers Satchel Paige, Mule Suttles, and Willie Mays.”

Mays, just days before he died, revealed in “a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle that he would not be attending Thursday’s [i.e., today’s] contest.

“’I wish I could come out to Rickwood Field this week to be with you all and enjoy that field with my friends. Rickwood’s been part of my life for all of my life. Since I was a kid. It was just ‘around the corner there’ from Fairfield [the town where Mays went to high school], and it felt like it had been there forever. Like a church. The first big thing I ever put my mind to was to play at Rickwood Field. It wasn’t a dream. It was something I was going to do. I was going to work hard to be one of the Birmingham Black Barons and play ball at Rickwood Field. That’s what I did. It was my start. My first job. You never forget that. Rickwood Field is where I played my first home game, and playing there was IT — everything I wanted. “

I should end with this benediction, which I’ve used before. Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song) –  The Treniers 


Author: Roger

I'm a librarian. I hear music, even when it's not being played. I used to work at a comic book store, and it still informs my life. I won once on JEOPARDY! - ditto.

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