(May 6) Baseball speedster Bobby Bonds was at nearly full speed approaching the ugly right-center fence at Candlestick Park when he took a stutter step as if considering a mighty leap.

Suddenly, though, moving even faster, no hesitation at all, came a freak of nature from the other direction, one named Willie Mays. Mays soared high above Bonds, glove stretched above the 10-foot fence, hitting both Bonds and the fence simultaneously. Mays crumpled to the ground, momentarily motionless, appearing to be knocked out.

Bonds, also shaken up, had the presence of mind to point to Mays’s glove and then lift it for all the world to see. Safe inside the webbing was the baseball he and Mays had been chasing.

As a 6-year-old on April 11, 1970, I saw the catch live on my grandmother’s TV. To this day, it remains the single most breathtaking baseball play I’ve ever seen. (Decades later, I found video of it on the internet. Please watch it here, although the video stops before Bonds lifts Mays’s glove.) The nearly 39-year-old Mays already had been my favorite player (albeit tentatively) because the back of my Mays baseball card showed him with 579 home runs, so much more than anyone else that it boggled the mind, while something about his casual smile on the front-side photo made him immensely likable.

But after that catch, the Say Hey Kid became my greatest sports hero — the more so as I read or saw retrospectives about how he doted on the neighborhood kids in New York in his early years, how he worked so hard for children’s charities, and how he was a beloved and generous teammate, a class act through and through. At some point, I learned of the time he had run to help opposing catcher Johnny Roseboro when Mays’s teammate Juan Marichal hit Roseboro over the head with a bat — then had cradled Roseboro’s bloody head momentarily before leading the catcher off the field for first aid….

[To read the rest of this paean — and to be reminded how, to paraphrase a poem famously cited by Ronald Reagan (whom, by the way, Mays supported!), Mays “soared above the earthly Bonds” — well, please follow this link. Say Hey forever!]


Tags: , , , , ,