The Wesleyan decree. online resource (None) 1961-current, February 22, 2002, Image 5
FEBRUARY 22,2002 — THE DECREE — PAGE 5 Remembering the great Willie Mays By DR. TERRY SMITH IIVC English Professor Emeritus Villie Howard Mays was the ;t exciting baseball player I r saw in some 55 years of ching baseball games. In all, jlayed 22 years in the major rues for the New York Giants, Francisco Giants, and New k Mets. He was among the t of the African-American )?ers who followed Jackie linson into Organized Base- He finished his career with a .302 lifetime batting average and ftO home runs. Only Henry Aaron and Babe Ruth hit more. He had speed as well as power, IjEding the National League in stolen bases four years in a row. Roger Angell described him b|st in his 1972 The Summer Game: “One thinks of Willie ^ays, in the best of his youth, TBtting at the Polo Grounds, his ole body seeming to leap at ball as he swings in an explo sion of exuberance. Or Mays in Bnter field, playing in so close flat he appears at times to be Etching the game from over the Bcond baseman’s shoulder, and ^en that same joyful leap as he Bkes off after a long, deep drive, Snning so hard and so far that e ball itself seems to stop in the ^ and wait for him.” Arnold Hano’s A Day in the teachers, first published in 1955, ®ntains an interesting — and ^ite insightful — portrait of Bays at the very beginning of his Bajor league career. The book re- ®unts the Giants’ 5-2 victory, in first of a four-game sweep of Cleveland Indians in the 1954 ^orld Series. Hano quotes Cleveland man- iRer A1 Lopez on the subject of Ways’ batting. In the Spring of J954, Lopez was not particularly Snpressed, saying after watching Ways through spring training that jMays was a .270 hitter who jight hit .300, ... if he’d only jam to bunt down the third base |ne.” Lopez was probably think- *g of the Mays of 1951 and 1952, ihen he had hit .272 and .236. Ways had spent most of the 1952 |nd all of the 1953 season in the ,vmy. I Hano himself had the benefit ?f watching Mays’ spectacular !954 season, when among many ther accomplishments, he’d led >e National League in both bat ing and slugging percentage. Nevertheless, Hano was not par- icularly impressed, either, writ- ng that “Mays does not inspire f>v hones at the nlate as he used to. This is foolish on my part, because he is a far better hitter now than he was when I felt that with every swing he’d hit a home run. I cannot help it; I harbor the feeling that A1 Lopez was right, that Mays is a .270 hitter who might hit .300 with some luck. It was against the rules that he hit more than that in 1954, so undis ciplined does he seem.” As it turned out. Mays was a lifetime .300 hitter with plenty of power. Hano, though, locates Mays’ genius as a ballplayer in his field ing, not his hitting. The first game of the 1954 World Series pro vides the perfect occasion for this, involving, as it does, what was immediately known as “The Catch.” Mays’ catch of Vic Wertz’s eighth inning drive in deep right- center field with the potential win ning ran on base was one of the central events of the game. Mays taking Wertz’s drive over his left shoulder as he approaches the warning track just right of straight-away center field is on the cover of both editions of Hano’s book. Hano’s treatment of “The Catch” is revealing. He says noth ing of the length of Wertz’s drive, but says that he had never seen a ball hit as hard as Wertz hit this one. Hano characterizes Wertz’s drive as “not the longest ball ever hit in the Polo Grounds, not by a comfortable margin.” It may seem surprising that the first thing Hano says of his reaction to the hardest hit he ever saw was “I was not immediately perturbed.” But like all Giant fans in 1954, Hano was used to Mays’ ability to catch any thing that stayed in the ballpark. I listened to the regular Giants’ an nouncers’ radio broadcast of the game, and was surprised to read in the papers the next day that Mays had made an unusually dif ficult play. Hano concludes that “had not Mays made that slight movement with his head as though he were going to look back in the middle of flight, he would have caught the ball standing still.” Not exacdy a routine catch, but Hano and the Giants’ an nouncers and I weren’t surprised that Willie had caught up with the ball. Much of the time Hano spends on Mays in his book is concerned with Willie’s throwing. He de votes two pages early in the book to Mays’ practicing his throwing from the outfield during pregame warm-ups. He also comments on a throw to third that Mays made to hold Wertz to a double in the tenth innine; “Here was the final climaxing of an exhibition of power, speed and accuracy that must be unequalled in any sport.” His throwing was surely the most wondrous dimension of this most wondrous ballplayer. Of ev erything in Charles Einstein’s bi ography of Mays, Willie’s Time, I remember most vividly San Francisco Giant manager Bill Rigney’s instraction to young Gi ant infielders: “When they hit it to him, . . . .please go to a base. Don’t confuse the issue by ask ing me why. Just be there.” And Paul Metcalf, with the instinct of poets, titled his poem celebrating Mays’ outfielding “Willie’s Throw.” [Metcalf’s poem — which commemorates another of Mays’ famous fielding plays — is most readily available in Rich ard Grossinger and Lisa Conrad’s Baseball I Gave You All the Best Years of My Life (Fifth edition, 1992) or Tercalf’s Collected Works, Volume Two, 1976-1986 (1997).] Mays’ fielding genius — par ticularly his throwing — distin guished him from the other slug ging outfielders of the 1950s and 1960s: Henry Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson. Tommy Henrich, New York Yankees out fielder, once commented on the difficulties of outfielding, saying “catching a fly ball is a pleasure, but knowing what to do with it after you catch it is a business.” More than a great slugger, more than a fast man on the bases and in the outfield, Willie Howard Mays knew how to take care of business. Hear Ye, Hear Ye! Seniors, March 4 *-8* is your week to “get your job search act together!” 1. The Internship & Career Services Center has reserved the entire week for assisting seniors with their job search. Call 5270 or 5258 to schedule a one-on-one consultation. 2. Daily “Brown Bag” Lunch Seminars from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.: March 4 - “Resume and Cover Letter Writing” Trustees Room March 5 - “Interviewing and Evaluation of Compensation Packages” by Bob Ferguson, Human Resources Group Manager, RBC Centura BB&T Room March 6 - “How Do You Handle Credit, Pay Off Student Loans, and Live at the Same Time?” by Janet Casey, Consumer Credit Counseling Service BB&T Room March 7 - “Business Etiquette and Dress” BB&T Room March 8 - “Entrepreneurship” by Theresa Morris, Small Business Technology and Development Center BB&T Room Bring your lunch and meet these special guests who are here to help launch your career!