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Loran Smith - Willie Mays

Willie  Mays
By Loran Smith
Willie  Mays
By Loran Smith



The tributes to Willie Mays last week were bittersweet. He, of course, deserved all the lofty praise, but there was the regret of his having to endure the segregation dissent and humiliation of his native South, growing up in Westfield, Ala., nine miles west of Birmingham. He rose above the ignominy and indignity of his early years to exalted status in baseball. Many who saw him play say he was the greatest all around performer ever in the Big Leagues. Who could argue with that? The man was as spectacular in the field as he was at bat.

It is doubtful that any player embodied the “5 tool evaluation more than Willie Mays: 1) Consistently hitting for average. (His career average was .302).

2) Hitting for power: Demonstrating homerun ability and slugging prowess. (He hit 660 home runs in his career).

3) Fielding ability: Exceptional defensive skills, both by the eye test and through metrics. (He was a magician with his glove).

4) Speed: Impressive sprint speed on the basepaths. (His running the basepaths was graceful and downright beautiful).

5) Throwing arm: strong arm strength whether fielding or making throws from the outfield. (Recall his catch and throw in the ’54 Series vs. the Indians). In 1962, the Giants had moved from the Polo Grounds in New York to San Francisco and met the Yankees in the World Series. It went seven games with the middle three games being played in New York. The Yankees won the series, 4-3.

At the time, I was stationed at Groton, Conn. with the U. S. Coast Guard and often spent the weekends in Manhattan. A serviceman could get a cheap rate at the Century Hotel, which had lost its luster. I was just happy to be in Manhattan and enjoying a rare experience.

I had started covering the Masters for the Athens Banner Herald in 1960 and had gotten to know Will Grimsley, who was a columnist for the Associated Press in New York. I went by the AP Building at 50 Rockefeller Plaza, and he gave me a Western Union pass to New York Giant (football) games and also for the 1962 World Series— Mickey Mantle and the Yankees vs. continued from page

Willie Mays and the Giants— for the third game of the series.

The teams had split two games at Candlestick Park in San Francisco. It was a balmy afternoon in the Bronx. I took the subway out to old Yankee Stadium before noon for the 2:00 p.m. start.

While I don’t recall what time I arrived, I did get in early to watch batting practice with my Western Union pass. It was emotionally stimulating to see Mickey and Willie hit soaring homeruns into the stand’s pre-game, hoping that one of them would connect during the upcoming game.

Because of my lifelong affection for my favorite team, the Boston Red Sox, I was pulling for the Giants, but I was a big fan of Mickey Mantle. It would have suited me fine if both he and Willie had performed in the game as they had done during BP, but it didn’t happen.

For the ’62 Series, only eight homeruns were hit collectively by the two teams: five by the Giants, three by the Yankees, one of those by Roger Maris, but in San Francisco.

Nonetheless, it was a nice memory to have seen Willie and Mickey competing in the “House that Ruth Built” in a World Series game on a balmy Sunday afternoon.

On the way from the stadium back to the subway platform, I bought a San Francisco bobble head doll in honor of Willie and the Giants, my antipathy for the Yankees still intact.

The passing of time has ameliorated my emotions. With a friend, Aaron Boone, becoming manager, I no longer hate the Yankees. In fact, I am pulling for them to win the American League pennant.

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