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Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend

Biography of Willie Mays by James S. Hirsch

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An excellent biography of the best all-around baseball player of all time

  • Mar 19, 2010
  • by
Almost three decades after they retired from baseball and after a black man has been elected president of the United States, it is sometimes difficult to remember what players such as Willie Mays and Hank Aaron went through. They started playing in the segregated Negro Leagues and were pioneers in the integration of baseball and American society. Through their careers, they saw opportunities open up for black players as coaches, managers and executives. Yet, as late at the middle 1980's baseball executive Al Campanis stated on national television that blacks "lacked the necessities" to be effective executives.
As Aaron states in his book, "I Had a Hammer" and is restated in this book, some of the significant and unsung heroes of the integration of baseball were some of the teammates of the trailblazing blacks. Aaron mentions his white teammate that with bat in hand; escorted the white players when they walked in a southern town. In this book, an incident with Mays is described where on his first night in a strange town when he was segregated from his white teammates, some of them snuck up the fire escape and spent the night in his room so he wouldn't be lonely. Given Willie's innate shyness, he had no better first manager than Leo Durocher, a man that seemed to know exactly what to say to Willie.
I also commend Hirsch for including incidents of racism against Willie and other black players over a decade after integration. One of the most incredible incidents in this despicable bag is when a white Giants player was heard saying after a disappointing year, "The problem with this team is that there are too many Negroes." Given that four of the players on the team were Juan Marichal, Willie McCovey, Orlando Cepeda and Willie Mays and all of them are in the baseball hall of fame, this has to rank as one of the dumbest comments about a baseball team ever recorded. It would be clear to anyone that the dead weight on that team was white and Hirsch was very kind not to quote the player by name.
In my opinion, Mays is the best all-around baseball player of all time, no one has ever played the field better than he did. One of the most amazing items in this book is that Mays and some of those who watched him all argue that his famous catch against Vic Wertz was not the best fielding play he ever made. It is unfortunate that there is no footage, because it is hard to imagine how anything could have been better than that. I personally would have to see it to believe it. His statistics at the plate are also excellent, they would have been even better had he done what other great hitters did, take a day off on a regular basis. There is also little doubt that if Mays had played in a home park more favorable to right-handed hitters and if he had not been drafted, his career home run total would have been near or over 800. Hirsch also does not neglect stories about Willie's talents running the bases, not just stolen bases but doing things like slowing down to draw a throw so that a teammate behind him can take an extra base.
This is one of the best biographies of a sports legend that I have ever read, Hirsch is kind to Willie, but not overly so. What he does is point out how generous Willie was and also how naive he was at times. This trait was the source of many of Willie's difficulties off the field, including in his personal life and relationship with the Giants ownership. After you read some biographies of sports legends your opinion of them is diminished, not so in this case. I watched Willie play on television several times and have seen many of his highlights. He is a great man and this book will rightly add to his already considerable legend.

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More Willie Mays: The Life, The Leg... reviews
review by . March 26, 2010
   As a true baseball fan and a child of the 60's I loved this book packed with such intricate detail and Willie expressions.  The reader gets a great understanding as to Willie the man and why he is so softspoken.   Willie's personality somewhat reminded me of how Lou Gerhig was portrayed in Pride of the Yankees. Having known practically nothing about Willie's pre-Giant days I really enjoyed tales of how he juggled his high school studies with playing on traveling teams …
review by . April 06, 2010
. . . critical biography of one of the greatest and most beloved baseball players of all time -- Willie Mays!    "Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend" is an extremely well-written, meticulously researched biography which traces the life of the "Say Hey" kid from his youth in (heavily) segregated Birmingham, AL, through his meteoric rise through the Negro and Minor Leagues, and his Major League career (in great detail). This book, while technically an "authorized biography", written …
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Charles Ashbacher ()
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Charlie Ashbacher is a compulsive reader and writer about many subjects. His prime areas of expertise are in mathematics and computers where he has taught every course in the mathematics and computer … more
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Authorized by Willie Mays and written by a New York Times bestselling author, this is the definitive biography of one of baseball's immortals.

Considered to be "as monumental--and enigmatic--a legend as American sport has ever seen" (Sports Illustrated), Willie Mays is arguably the greatest player in baseball history, still revered for the passion he brought to the game. He began as a teenager in the Negro Leagues, became a cult hero in New York, and was the headliner in Major League Baseball's bold expansion to California. With 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, and 338 stolen bases, he was a blend of power, speed, and stylistic bravado that enraptured fans for more than two decades. Now, in the first biography authorized by and written with the cooperation of Willie Mays, James Hirsch reveals the man behind the player.

Willie is perhaps best known for "The Catch"--his breathtaking over-the-shoulder grab in the 1954 World Series. But he was a transcendent figure who received standing ovations in enemy stadiums and who, during the turbulent civil rights era, urged understanding and reconciliation. More than his records, his legacy is defined by the pure joy that he brought to fans and the loving memories that have been passed to future generations so they might know the magic and beauty of the game. With meticulous research, and drawing on interviews with Mays himself as well as with close friends, family, and teammates, Hirsch presents a complex ...

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ISBN-10: 1416547908
ISBN-13: 978-1416547907
Author: James S Hirsch
Genre: Biographies & Memoirs, History, Sports
Publisher: Scribner
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