Yesterday was Willie Mays' 82nd birthday. Mays was the best I ever saw play the game, and very possibly the best who ever did play the game. Here is the post I wrote two years ago on his 80th birthday:
"Today is Willie Mays' 80th birthday. For a lot of folks like me that is just staggering as I still think of Willie Mays as the star who roamed center field of Candlestick Park. I grew up within a half hour of Candlestick and was a Giants fan as long as I can recall.
When I was a kid my dad took me (and some little league teammates) to Candlestick a number of times during the 1969-73 seasons where I got to see Mays play center. Mays was already 38 by 1969 and on the down side of his career, but he still had genuine charisma. As kids, one of the first things someone would always say when we arrived during batting practice was, "There's Mays."
During the era I saw Mays play the team still had Willie McCovey, Bobby Bonds, Chris Speier, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, all big stars at the time, but no one excited us kids more than Mays. In 1970 I was at the game when Mays got his 3000th hit. I still recall them stopping the game to honor Mays. Stan Musial and some other members of the 3000 hit club were there to congratulate Mays, but what I really recall (at least I think I do) was the hit was a single, and McCovey followed with another single, and Mays scored all the way from 1st base on that single.
So one can recite all the great stats, watch the video of the catch of Vic Wertz and talk of all the amazing feats Willie Mays ever did on the field, but what stands out for me is how great it felt to be a kid just watching him play. So thanks Mr. Mays for a very special part of my childhood, and the childhood of my generation."
Postscript: Since I wrote the above, Mays' beloved wife Mae passed away last month. My sympathies go out to him. I also read James Hirsch's biography, a great insight on how much Mays loved the game and played it for all it was worth. Willie Mays is a national sports treasure.