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HomeNews100 Years Ago/HistoryA Local Fan Remembers Willie Mays (1931-2024)

A Local Fan Remembers Willie Mays (1931-2024)

By Philip R. Devlin
(June 19, 2024) — I saw Willie Mays play in person twice. The first time was on October 8, 1962 in the fourth game of the World Series against the Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
My father got three tickets somehow and took me and my brother, Bobby, to the game, which the Giants won, 7-3 behind the pitching of Juan Marichal and a grand slam by second baseman Chuck Hiller. Willie was 1 for 5 with a single.
The second time—and most memorable– was on Sunday, August 29, 1965, against the Mets at Shea Stadium. Our Little League team from Windsor Locks had just won the Little League World Series the day before in Williamsport, Pennsylvania.
All eight teams from that Series travelled by bus to New York City to see a Mets game at Shea and to visit the World’s Fair for two days. Our team got to go to the Mets dugout, and we actually interacted with some of the players pre-game on the field.
I particularly remember first baseman Eddie Kranepool telling us details about some of our games, as he had followed the games in the New York Daily News. At one point, he blurted out, “Where’s Mt. Fuji?” He was referring to our big first baseman, Dale Misiek, whom the Tokyo team had nicknamed “Mt. Fuji.” (Dale was 5 feet, 10 inches tall and weighed 180 pounds at age 12—bigger than Willie Mays!)
Shortly thereafter, our team was guided to the third base dugout area where we actually met Willie Mays on the field in front of the dugout. It was a thrill! We also saw up close such standout players as Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey, and Jim Ray Hart. (Juan Marichal was not there because that was just a few days after he had hit Dodgers catcher John Roseboro over the head with a baseball bat and had been suspended!)
The amazing thing to me was that Mays was not that big physically, yet he had tremendous power to hit home runs. He was the greatest all-around ballplayer that I ever saw. (Incidentally, Mays won his second MVP award in 1965, behind a career-high fifty-two home runs. He batted .317, leading the National League in on-base percentage (.400) and slugging percentage (.645). The eleven years that passed between his MVP awards was the longest gap of any major leaguer who attained the distinction more than once, as were the ten years between his fifty-home run seasons. He scored 118 runs, making that the twelfth year in a row he had scored at least 100 runs in a season.)
In the game that we saw at Shea Stadium, Mays hit a three-run shot in the third inning, part of a five-run rally by the Giants. It was his seventeenth homer of the month, breaking Ralph Kiner’s previous record of sixteen homers in a month. It was Willie’s 41st home run of the season, as the Giants beat the Mets 8-3
Hall of Fame Dodgers pitcher Sandy Koufax pretty much summed it all up about Mays when he said: “I can’t believe that Babe Ruth was a better player than Willie Mays. Ruth is probably to baseball what Arnold Palmer is to golf. He got the game moving. But I can’t believe he could run as well as Mays and I can’t believe he was a better outfielder.”
Let’s also remember that early in his career, Mays got drafted into the Army for the Korean War. He missed two seasons. There can be little doubt that had he played those two seasons he would have eclipsed Ruth’s career home run total of 714 before anyone else.
Photos provided by Philip Devlin. Those of Willie Mays are in the public domain from Wikipedia. The Shea Stadium aerial is from the Prelinger Archives and has been released to the public domain.

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