Guzzardi: Celebrating Willie Mays’ 81st birthday

From SABR member Joe Guzzardi at Baseball Past and Present on May 9, 2012:

On May 6, Willie Mays celebrated his 81st birthday. During those1950s years the baseball world couldn’t resolve the debate about who was New York’s best center fielder, Mickey, Willie or the Duke. As sports writer Red Smith said:

“Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. You could get a fat lip in any saloon by starting an argument as to which was best. One point was beyond argument, though. Willie was by all odds the most exciting.”

At the time, I lived in Los Angeles and didn’t qualify to have an opinion. In those days, major league baseball hadn’t yet arrived in California so my limited knowledge was based on stories I read in the great old Sports Magazine or in late newspaper box scores. I did, however, see May’s 1954 legendary World Series catch on a tiny black and white television screen. In the Series first game, Cleveland Indians’ Vic Wertz launched a tremendous shot to deep center field, Mays, looking over his shoulder, caught the ball and fired it back into the infield. (See it here.)

When the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, Mays began the second phase of his outstanding career. After Mays retired, the Giants erected a statue of him outside AT & T Park, the address of which is 24 Willie Mays Plaza.

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Originally published: May 10, 2012. Last Updated: May 10, 2012.