All-Stars, Hall of Famers sing Mays' praises
Legend lauded for speed, drive and playing style
When the subject is Willie Mays, people in baseball have plenty to say. Following is a sampling.
Joe Torre, Dodgers manager and nine-time All-Star: You have to love Willie's enthusiasm for the game. That's never disappeared. Felipe Alou once said to me, "It seems that the spotlight follows him no matter where he goes." Something exciting happens when he's on the field.Felipe Alou, 17-year Major Leaguer: Any city that we played in, when we arrived there, the newspaper said, "Willie Mays and company." In the "company" was Juan Marichal, Gaylord Perry, Willie McCovey. Willie Mays was the big guy, no question about it. We knew that. Willie McCovey, Hall of Fame first baseman: During those days, we didn't play Interleague Games, and we didn't have the television exposure that they have nowadays, so most of the people in the American League didn't get a chance to see the National League stars until the All-Star Game. That's why Ted Williams said, "The All-Star Game was made for Willie Mays." He got to showcase his talents to the world. Alou: Willie Mays was the kind of guy who, when he put on a uniform, he'd go all out. Willie did a lot of barnstorming in the offseason to make extra money. They'd go to Puerto Rico, Venezuela and the Dominican Republic. And Willie played all out. Playing for the Dominican team, I remember I hit a line drive in the gap in left-center field. I knew it was going to be a triple, because I could run. And Willie dove, somersaulted about 10 times and caught the ball. Torre: Willie was a relaxed player. I used to catch behind him. I tried not to call the signs too soon, and he used to yell at me because he wanted to hit right now. One time I asked Willie a question, and as he was answering me, he hit a ball out of the ballpark. McCovey: He did so many remarkable things, it actually became routine. We were so spoiled. He'd make plays that people would yell and talk about for months. We saw those plays every day, so it was no big deal. Hitting four home runs in one game probably was the least of the spectacular things he did. Jim Davenport, Giants third baseman, 1958 to 1970, on the game in which Mays hit four homers, on April 30, 1961, at Milwaukee: I batted second in front of him. In the ninth inning, he was going to come up again and I made the last out. Of course, they booed me. Alou: I hit a home run that day and never made the newspapers. I didn't mind. He would always outshine the team. Torre: Just his body language called attention to him. His rookie year, I guess, was '51. I was 10, 11 years old, and it was fun growing up a Giants fan in New York with a player like that. Alou: He's the best guy that I've ever seen -- I haven't seen anybody close -- who could score from third base on a short wild pitch or passed ball. This guy would score standing up. What an incredible sense of baserunning. Billy Pierce, 211-game winner for the Tigers, White Sox and Giants: I used to hit fungoes to him, and he'd catch the ball behind his back. Gaylord Perry, Hall of Fame right-hander: There was a ball hit to right-center field. Bobby Bonds was playing right field, and Mays was playing center. The ball was hit right between them. Both of them went hard for it. Mays went over the fence to catch the ball; Bobby ran into him with his knee and knocked the wind out of him. But Willie held onto the ball. When he came into the dugout after that inning, I was sitting there laughing. He said, "What are you laughing about, Gaylord?" I said, "I know I'm going to have a great year if you catch that sucker." (Mays made that play in April 1970; Perry went on to win 23 games.) Juan Marichal, Hall of Fame right-hander: Pitching was easy with a guy like Willie in center field. I remember when Gaylord and I were supposed to pitch, we had a three-minute meeting. Mays, Gaylord or me, and the catcher. He played the hitters so well. If you made a mistake, right away he'd come and tell you -- "You were supposed to pitch him away, and you threw a breaking ball, and he pulled the ball and got a hit." That's your mistake. When you were on that mound, you tried not to make any kind of mistake. Otherwise you were going to hear from Willie. Alou: It's too bad that when it comes to evaluating guys like Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Barry Bonds, people only look at the home runs. People aren't interested in all of the other stuff that a guy like Willie, especially, could do. Speed and baserunning expertise. Defense. It hurts me that the average fan doesn't know the real Willie Mays. They only read about 660 homers and the "Say Hey Kid." I know all of that is important, but the whole package of this tremendous player is lost.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.