On the heels of the publication of James S. Hirsch’s new biography, Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend (Scribner, 2010), yesterday NPR’s “All Things Considered” aired an interview with arguably the greatest player to ever play baseball: “The Say Hey Kid,” “Buck,” Mr. Willie Mays. In the interview, Mays offers some interesting reflections on his career, such as the last couple of years of his career with the Mets (for which he was roundly criticized) and how his approach to baseball as one of the early players to break the color barrier in MLB differed from Jackie Robinson’s approach (apparently Robinson criticized Mays on more than one occasion for not taking a more public stance on civil rights not just in MLB but also in America generally). Of course, the interview spends a god deal of time on what’s known nowadays simply as “The Catch,” that seemingly impossible over-the-head, on-the-run grab that Mays made during Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians. A couple of people reminisce about having seen the magnificent catch live and how surreal it was. But it’s Mays’ recounting of what was going through his head during the race to the ball that Vic Wertz hit and what he did after catching it that is truly poignant. For, in the few remarks that he offers about his recollection of “The Catch,” we hear just how good he was at playing the game, and it had far less to do with his speed, dexterity, and strength than it did with his forethought and acuity.
As a closing note, it’s perhaps worth a mention, and I reckon all (five) of the fair readers of Eat My Peashoot will recall, that Bob Dylan drafted Willie Mays into some pretty powerful company in “I Shall Be Free,” situating him alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and Babtunde Olitunji.
Oh I sat me down on the television floor I flipped the channel to number four Out of the shower comes a football man With a bottle of oil in his hand Greasy kid's stuff What I want to know mister football man is What do you know about Willie Mays Martin Luther King Olitunji --"I Shall Be Free" on The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan (1963)