Tuesday, June 18, 2024

Willie Mays, 1931-2024

In the summer of 1954 I was eight years old, and my parents and I returned from a three year sojourn in England, where my father, a U.S. Air Force officer, had been stationed. I had been the only American in an English school, so I had been thoroughly Anglicized. I knew of cricket, of what my schoolmates had called "football" but we call soccer, and of something called "rounders," which I later realized had some vague resemblance to baseball. Of baseball itself, though, I knew nothing. Neither of my parents were fans, so it hadn't been part of my acculturation. 

On September 29, 1954 my third grade classmates at the Eglin Air Force Base Elementary School and I were excused from our classrooms early in the afternoon to go to the "cafetorium," where a big black-and-white TV was set up on the stage for us to watch the opening game of the World Series, pitting the New York Giants against the Cleveland Indians. I don't recall having any rooting interest, though I may have favored the Giants since I had been to New York but never to Cleveland (I still haven't, unless you count the airport). One thing remains engraved on my memory from that game: Willie Mays of the Giants making "The Catch" (video above). That was enough to convince me that baseball was something worth watching, and knowing. Thank you, Mr. Mays. 

Willie Mays, considered by many the greatest all-around baseball player ever, died today at 93. I can't help adding that he ended his playing career with the Mets, and that his last hit was a run scoring single in game 3 of the 1973 World Series. Joan Whitney Payson, then the Mets' principal owner, had promised that his number would be retired, but she died in 1975 and her promise remained unfulfilled until Old Timers' Day in August of 2022.

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