Willie Mays Showed Me Baseball Greatness
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My Experience Watching Willie Mays Perform Amazing Plays
Willie Mays was voted by Sports Illustrated the second greatest baseball player of all time behind Babe Ruth. The case that is made for Mays being elevated to that honor is a strong one. He is known as one of the greatest outfielders, with his speed, judging fly balls and a throwing arm that once threw a guy out at home plate from 400 feet. He didn't steal many bases because he was simply too valuable, but had an uncanny ability to run the bases. He was a great hitter in the adverse conditions of Candlestick Park.
But I saw Willie Mays in person on almost 10 occasions growing up. My dad used to drive us up from a little town in Fresno County to the Bay Area to watch, first at the old Seal Stadium and then at Candlestick Park, still used by the 49ers. I have first hand proof that Mays was truly one of the all time great baseball players and athletes in any sport.
On one occasion, I saw Mays hit a three run home run against the wind off of Sandy Koufax, perhaps the most dominant pitcher who ever lived. Koufax had a 100 mile per hour fastball and a curve that broke down more than the entire length of the strike zone. He was virtually invincible. With the mound being higher than today, Mays had to hit off the best at a big disadvantage.
But one other occasion proved to me the almost superhuman abilities of Mays. We were sitting just past first base and Mays had walked. He was on first, and the next batter hit a sharp grounder to the third baseman. Mays had a jump on the play, and was too close to second for the third baseman to start a double play.
Mays rounded second and as the putout was made at first base, Mays took third. So, on a ground ball to the third baseman that resulted in an out, Mays went from first to third. I don't think you can see that sort of play often. It requires both speed and timing. Mays had that unteachable sense of graceful aggression. He was simply born to play baseball.
Of course, I also saw Mays play the outfield with an uncanny ability. He used to play centerfield very shallow. He had the speed to go back on any ball and track it down. He was famous in the World Series for "the Catch", and had that great capacity to play shallow and cut off many doubles and triples and turn them into outs.
I would say from my personal observance, that Willie Mays was a marvel, a gifted human being who played baseball with not only massive physical abiltiy, but with intelligence and a zeal unmatched. He loved to play.
Mays did not get a lot of post season opportunities, because of Dodger success and pitching. But his performances in the all star games are legendary.
If you are a baseball fan, take the opportunity to look at some YouTube video of Mays and some of his great plays. I think you will be convinced that baseball greatness defined him.
Willie Mays with "the Catch"
Willie Mays Was the Greatest Baseball Athlete
Willie Mays was the most physically gifted baseball player of all time. Babe Ruth had a little better swing. Hank Aaron had a little better swing. Roberto Clemente had a little stronger arm. But baseball is more than just hitting and Mays saved his throwing arm for big moments. And Mays made plays that seemed superhuman. He was at the top of the gene pool when it came to creativity in the field and on the bases.
Mays had to cover for his teammates. His ability to run down balls is legendary. He didn't show off his arm, but when he needed it, the man had a gun and threw folks out from untenable positions. On the bases he showed the same gift of judgement that he had when flagging fly balls. It can't be coached or taught, but is simply a gift.
His 7,095 putouts is the most by any outfielder all time, and is just another proof of his amazing abilities, speed, hand/eye coordination, timing, and intelligence. No one single player had a better mix of these attributes than Willie Mays.
I truly enjoyed watching Willie Mays and wish I had been able to watch him more in person than I did. But he showed me enough to know that I would never see an athlete more gifted come into the major leagues. I had to settle most times for listening to his exploits with a transistor pocket radio, but was happy to be able to see the plays I saw, and they were easy to appreciate.
Willie Mays Highlights
Commentary on Willie Mays
Mays Looks Back on His Career
Babe Ruth Was the Greatest Hitter
- Why Was Babe Ruth the Greatest Baseball Hitter Ever?
Babe Ruth was the greatest hitter in baseball because he held his hands back. He had the greatest impact zone of any hitter. Ruth generated great power and could hit the off speed pitch.
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