The greatest baseball player ever, Willie Mays, turns 84 today. Even though it’s not a milestone birthday or even a multiple of five, here’s wishing him a happy day.
In doing so, let’s take another look at what remains the most thrilling catch I’ve ever seen live. No, this wasn’t “The Catch” from the 1954 World Series; it was at a regular-season game at Candlestick in 1970. I’ve been looking for a replay for years, and just found it. Watch it here. And here’s a description of this catch and several other a-Mayz-ing grabs.
He also was a class act –playing stickball with kids in the street, keeping his dignity amidst racial discrimination, and, most famously, playing peacemaker in the famous incident in which Juan Marichal beat Johnny Roseboro over the head with a bat. (Fittingly, after peace was restored, Mays won the game for his team by hitting a three-run homer.) As recounted by John Saccoman:
The pennant race was marred by one of the ugliest incidents in baseball history. On August 22 the Giants’ Juan Marichal had knocked down two Dodgers hitters early in the game when he came to bat to lead off the bottom of the third inning against Dodgers ace Sandy Koufax. After Dodgers catcher John Roseboro, in a bit of retaliation, whistled the ball past Marichal’s ear on his return throw to Koufax, Marichal shouted at Roseboro. When the catcher started to get out of his crouch to go after him, the enraged Marichal hit Roseboro over the head with his bat. Naturally, both benches emptied. Mays ran from the dugout to Roseboro’s aid and cradled Roseboro’s head in his hands, with blood staining Mays’s uniform and tears streaming down his face. After play resumed, the next two batters made out, two men walked, and Mays hit a three-run homer, one of his NL-record 17 round-trippers that month.
Roseboro’s account of Willie’s role in the incident is particularly telling. “I guess Mays was more of a ballplayer than he was a Giant,” he wrote in his autobiography, Glory Days With the Dodgers, and Other Days With Others. “He was a sensitive guy, a good buddy, and he didn’t like what his teammate had done to me. … Mays may have been shook, but he hit his fourth homer of the four game series [after the incident]. …”55
Happy Birthday, Mr. Mays.