Baseball was, is, and always will be a kid’s game. We are so lucky that society hasn’t become jaded enough to stop watching these adults play around on a field. But the grandest thing about it, is that there are those that played the game with the same passion that we all had when we were kids. And that is what made Willie Mays the greatest player ever to play the game.
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As a child, you are taught how to swing the bat, and how to throw. As tine passes, you meet a bunch of other children who were taught this same game by their moms and dads. You go play this game together on a field somewhere, and you always want to swing, throw, and catch like those guys on tv. No matter how many swings it took, you were going to hit the ball like that player you saw.
They are the legends of their times, the icons.
But unfortunately, icons in the game come and go, pretty quickly. Even though we see them as larger than life, their time in the spotlight isn’t really that long. They have a short period of time to make their mark in the game. The average career for a major leaguer is 5.6 years. It’s like if you were good at your job for even 15 years, and then the rest of the time you had to find something else to do.
Willie Mays was a player who’s image comes to mind when the word baseball is said at dinner tables. His name is always in the top five of something having to do with the game. He is the one that everyone is compared to. He did it for 2 years. He is the “Say Hey” kid.
To most baseball fans, Mays was a fast, power-hitting, right-handed batter, who could cover a lot of ground in the outfield and get the ball in quick. It is important to note that all of those abilities sound similar to the five tools of the game. Without the mold of the tools, the tools don’t get made in the first place. Mays was the mold of the five tools.
And to New York and San Francisco Giants fans he was all that, and he was theirs.
Without seeing him ever play live, I understand what he was about. A hard-working man, who wanted to play a game. Please recognize this concept because it is very important to understand this. A ballplayer works extremely hard at his craft so that he can continue to play a game. If they slack off just one season, they could be out on the streets with us working stiffs.
But they get to play a game, and that is why Mays put so much into it because he realized what a gift it is to be able to continue playing a game, and getting compensated for it until retirement. Mays always respected his gift to play baseball, and always worked to enhance what he had. He even had a war interrupt his progress.
Of course this says “He Was A Good Giant”, that is the name of the series. But Willie Mays is known as the best Giant, and greatest baseball player ever in the game.
But play on the field wasn’t the only reason he is the best of all time. There is also the way he embraced becoming an ambassador of the game. He was awarded the first ever Roberto Clemente award for his humanitarian work in the community. He also was seen playing stickball with the kids in both New York and San Francisco.
And that is where his career was unique from many legends, he did it on two coasts.
The move from New York wasn’t his idea. He was just an employee. He was beloved in New York and had become comfortable there. Then he had to win over a new town, that was looking for a hero. And Mays delivered on the field and off.
His career spanned two different eras, and he hit over 50 home runs in both (1955 with 51 and 1965 with 52). He was an All-Star in 20 seasons (24 total games, they played two early in his career), and won the Gold Glove 12 times. The Hall of Famer won 2 MVP awards, a Rookie of the Year award, and had the most putouts (7095) for an outfielder for his career.
Mike Trout is an excellent baseball player who has gotten out of the gate well. But he will have to maintain his level of play for another 15 seasons to equal what Mays did. That is not a putdown at all on Trout’s skills, but a testament to Willie’s. Mays hit 30 or more home runs 11 times as a center fielder, and still stole 338 bases. Ken Griffey Jr. is the closest player to match Mays with his power, but had nearly half of the stolen bases (184). Again, that was just for reference, Griffey’s a Hall of Famer too.
Stories are passed down from generation to generation about great legends in the game. Some stories need to be fluffed a bit to make them more interesting. But when stories of Willie Mays are told, the facts are interesting enough.
A child who wants to learn what it is like to play a game their whole life and love it, should look at a legend like Willie Mays. Maybe an inspiration like him will show what hard work, dedication, and the will to succeed do to an ordinary kid out of Alabama.
And Willie Mays, you are a
, the Greatest Giant.