Willie Mays

May 6, 2011 by staff 

Willie Mays, A trip to New York in January gave the San Francisco Giants Buster Posey recipient the opportunity to spend time with Willie Mays, who joined a delegation of the team in the World Series trophy to the birthplace of the club.
Pose for the experience was similar to time travel through the history of the game with Mays as a tour guide did not learn from books, but from experience.

“It’s almost like, if you were lucky enough to sit and talk to Babe Ruth when he was alive, or Mickey Mantle or (Joe) DiMaggio,” Posey said, highlighting Mays wit and enduring passion for the game. “He is a living legend.”

The legend turns 80 today, and the Giants will mark the occasion with a pregame ceremony that included tributes to some of his former teammates with the Birmingham Barons of the American black Black League.

That was the team that Mays made his professional debut as a high school student aged 17 in 1948, three years before he became Rookie of the Year with the New York Giants.

He is one of the four livings Hall of Famer who played in the Negro Leagues, along with Hank Aaron, Ernie Banks and Monte Irvin, and it evokes back some of the signature moments of the game.

Mays was the batter on deck when Bobby Thomson hit “Round shot heard the world”, sending the Giants 1951 World Series, and his immortal catch of Vic Wertz drive in the 1954 Fall Classic has been considered one of the great works of history.

The film legends: Willie Mays, which premieres Sunday on Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, not only highlights remarkable physical skills Mays, but his baseball acumen.

“He was like a coach on the field,” said his companion, long and fellow Hall of Famer Willie McCovey in the film. “I knew beforehand what would happen.”

Yet, Mays makes a startling confession in the documentary about Thomson’s iconic home run.

“I knew that the game was over,”he said.” I am the last to dish (for holding). ”

In retirement, Mays has remained connected to the game as an ambassador for the Giants and the godfather and confidant of Barry Bonds, who in 2007 set baseball’s home run record of all time.

Bonds name thrown into the discussion of the greatest players the game but for players of Mays’ era – seen as a golden era in baseball – there’s not much to discuss.

“Barry Bonds was a tremendous ballplayer,” said Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda, a Bay Area resident who frequently attends Giants games and was a teammate of Mays from 1.958 to 1.966. “But nobody can be compared to Willie Mays. There is nobody like Willie Mays.”

Four years before he joined and roomed with the Giants in Cepeda’s rookie season of 1958, El Torito was a batboy for Mays team winter league in Puerto Rico, Santurce Crabbers.

Mays were coming off a season NL MVP and a World Series championship, but he went to winter ball to earn some extra money. Cepeda was in awe.

“It was the most valuable player and is playing every game in Puerto Rico as if the World Series,”said Cepeda.” And he did not sit any games.”

Ray Doswell, curator of the Negro Leagues Museum in Kansas City, said winter ball always one of the few opportunities before 1947 for players of all colors to play together.

Once Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier, his outstanding work and success of players like Roy Campanella, Larry Doby, Don Newcombe and Mays paved the way for future black players, Doswell said.

“When you look at players like Mays and even the other young players who came after him,”said Doswell,” far from black and Latino players, this is the consummation of his greatness.”

Mays nearly four decades playing days, they still marvel at the greatness.

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