McCoy: From Despising Willie Mays To Loving Him

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS from The Man Cave, wishing I had been able to cover and write about Willie Mays during his prime.

—TRULY A-MAYS-ING: It was 1954 and I despised Willie Mays. I was 14 and closed-eyes about any player that didn’t wear a Cleveland Indians uniform.

And when Mays made ‘The Catch’ on Vic Wertz in the first game of the 1954 World Series, Mays was a four-letter word in my vocabulary.

Then the years passed and I began to appreciate what Willie Mays was all about and I recognized him for what he was. There are great players and then there are legends.

Mays was on the top of any list of baseball legends. What he couldn’t do on a baseball field was. . .nothing.

Somebody once asked him if ‘The Catch’ was the best catch he ever made and he said, “I dont rate ‘em. I just catch ‘em.”

They called him The Say Hey Kid because he couldn’t remember names and that’s how he greeted most people, “Say, hey.” He wore his cap a size too small so it would fly off when he whizzed around the bases, “Because fans liked to see my hat fly off.”

His description of himself was simplistic, “They throw the ball, I hit it. They hit the ball, I catch.” But there was never anything simplistic about Willie’s majestic talent.

And he was appreciative of what Jackie Robinson, baseball’s first black player, meant for him. He once said, “Every time I look into my wallet, I see Jackie Robinson.”

Willie’s last year was 1973 and he was a part-timer with the New York Mets, his immense talent dwindling away. My first year covering baseball was 1973. I never interviewed him or talked to him.

It was my great loss. I went from despising him to developing a baseball worship of what he was. The best ever. Truly a-Mays-ing.

And now he’s gone. He passed away Tuesday at age 92. They said he died peacefully. He never did anything peacefully on a baseball field.

—A BIGGER HEAT WAVE: With the current heat wave, my great old sports writer friend George Castle from the Chicago-area reminded me of this miserable night in Wrigley Field on July 13, 1995.

At game time (7:05) as the Reds and Cubs took the field, it was 104 degrees with a heat-humidity index of 120.

During the four-game series, more than 700 died from the heat in Chicago.

Jose Rijo, feeling as if he was pitching in his native Dominican Republic, pitched five innings and gave up three runs and five hits. Jeff Brantley pitched the final 1 1/3 perfectly for his 15th save as the Reds won, 11-5.

Barry Larkins contributed a home run, a triple, three RBI and three runs scored.

And I remember vividly, my computer died an inglorious death, probably from the perspiration I dripped on it. I dictated my story off the top of my heat-infected head.

—QUIZ TIME: Name the pitchers who did the following things, which were the most in MLB history: Pitched seven no-hitters. PItched 12 one-hitters. Pitched 18 two-hitters. Pitched 31 three-hitters.

Answer: The same guy did it all. . Nolan Ryan. Wonder if he also threw the most four-hitters?

—WHAT’S IN A NAME: A current trend is for minor league baseball teams to come up with the most ridiculous and humorous nicknames possible, as in:

Carolina Disco Turkeys, Florence Y’Alls, Gastonia Honey Hunters, Binghamton Rumble Ponies, Norwich Sea Unicorns, Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, Eugene Exploding Whales, Lehigh Valley Iron Pigs, Hartford Yard Goats, Amarillo Sod Poodles, Montgomery Biscuits,.

Rocket City Trash Pandas, Akron Rubberducks, Burlington Sock Puppets, Savannah Bananas, Traverse City Pit Spitters, Modesto Nuts, Missoula Paddleheads, Fort Myers Mighty Mussels, Lansing Lugnuts, Sugar Land Space Cowboys.

Maybe it’s time for the Dayton Dragons to become the Dayton Air Donkeys (for Wright Patterson Air Force Base) or the Dayton Cash Crunchers (for NCR).

—LACE ‘EM UP: With most of my relatives from West Virginia, I am permitted to repeat what my all-time sports writing hero, Jim Murray, once wrote about Mountain Mama:

“They don’t stare at you in West Virginia if you are wearing shoes. They stare if you have laces in them.”

Or as Rodney Dangerfield said, “A guy in West Virginia mowed his grass the other day and found a car and two couches.”

—QUOTATION DEVICES: What somebody once said:

From magazine publisher Martin Quigley: “In the confrontation between batter and pitcher, it is the curveball that makes the hitter the underdog.” (Nick Lodolo says, “Oh, yeah.”)

From owner Ted Turner when his Atlanta Braves were really bad: “This losing streak is bad for our fans, but we’re making a lot of people happy in other citries.” (Ol’ glass half full Ted.)

From former manager Casey Stengel: “The secret of managing is to keep the players who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.” (What if they all hate you, Casey?)

From former player Dave Winfield: “Tom Cruise only makes one or two movies a year. A baseball player can be a hero or a goat 162 times a year.” (But most of the time, you were Top Gun, Dave.)

—PLAYLIST NUMBER 63: If you haven’t figured it out yet, I love music. And by popular demand (one person), here are my favorite singing groups and singers: Elvis Presley, Phil Collins, Meat Loaf, George Jones, Chicago, The Cars.

I Can Only Imagine (MercyMe), You Might Think (The Cars), New York Minute (Don Henley), Kokomo (Beach Boys), I’m Already There (Lonestar), All She Wants To Do Is Dance (Don Henley), Say Something (Christine Aguilera).

All I Have To Do Is Dream (Elvis Presley), The Grand Tour (George Jones), Lovin’ Her Was Easier (Kris Kristofferson), On Heaven’s Door (Bob Dylan), Do You Love Me? (The Contours), I’m Still Standing (Elton John), Weatherman (Hank Williams Jr.), Hold The Line (Toto).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *