Happy birthday, Willie Mays!

My favorite baseball player as a kid was Willie Mays. I thought, and I still think that he was the greatest person who played in my lifetime. He could hit for average (.302 lifetime). He could hit for power; he was fifth all-time in extra base hits, behind only Hank Aaron, Mays’ godson Barry Bonds, Stan Musial, and Babe Ruth, and 4th in home runs after Bonds, Aaron and Ruth. He was a great fielder, with 12 Golden Gloves in a row (1957-1968).

Willie came up with the New York Giants in 1951, but his 1952 season was truncated and his ’53 season obliterated because of military service. In 1954, the Giants faced the powerful Cleveland team, a roster that won a record 111 out of 154 regular-season games, in the World Series. The Giants swept the Series in four games, in no small part due to Mays.

So when the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, the Bay City was expecting more pennants. But they lost the Series to the Yankees in 1962. I didn’t realize, until I read this article that those Giants losses in the playoffs and the Series, even after Mays retired, pained him. So the Series win for the 2010 San Francisco Giants was a win for the Say Hey Kid, so dubbed because he was lousy with names.

There is a song by a guy named Terry Cashman called Talkin’ Baseball, which mentions “Willie, Mickey and the Duke” in the chorus, they being the three now Hall of Fame centerfielders who played in New York City in the 1950s: Mays, Mickey Mantle of the Yankees and Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers. It namechecks a bunch of other players as well and has been updated occasionally. Listen to it HERE or HERE or HERE.

I have a colleague who knew Terry Cashman because she was friends with Terry’s daughter. As a result, she got to meet a bunch of the players mentioned in the song at a media event, including Willie, Mickey and the Duke, but the true significance of these gentlemen’s accomplishments was lost on her because she knew baseball not at all. She also met Rusty Staub, who she knew from his restaurants, not his ball playing. I am jealous.

Mickey died in 1995, and Duke Snider passed away in February of 2011, leaving only Willie from that triumvirate.

Happy 80th birthday, Willie! Listen to The Treniers singing Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song).
The 2010 World Series trophy was in Troy, NY yesterday, for a good historic reason.

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