"I was one of the 23,000 people who paid their way into the Polo Grounds in New York City on the night of May 28, 1951. My father was another. Maybe he paid for me, maybe I paid for him. Whatever, we had lousy seats way back in the lower stands behind home plate, a little toward first base. We had gone to see the Giants play the Braves, and we were looking forward to seeing Willie Mays, who had come up from the Minneapolis Millers a few days before to join the Giants. We were not overly impressed by his credentials—the Giants had a record of bringing overblown phenoms to the majors—but we were curious because the Giants moved Bobby Thomson out of center field to make room for him, and Thomson was then the fastest man in the league. I suppose we wanted to see if Mays was real.
"Willie had gone 0 for 12 in three games in Philadelphia, but he was still batting third that night of his debut in the Polo Grounds. Unhappily for Giant fans, Warren Spahn was pitching for Boston, Sheldon Jones for New York. In the top of the first inning the Braves scored three runs off Jones, which was depressing, considering how little the Giants were likely to do against Spahn. And when Warren briskly got rid of the first two batters to face him, indicating he had his stuff, we knew the game was over.
"Then Willie Mays stepped up and—I don't remember the count—hit a tremendously high home run on top of the left field roof, and we poor, bereft Giant fans were on our feet, roaring and yelling, shaking our fists exultantly. It remains in my memory as one of the most exciting home runs I ever saw, and I'm still not sure why. The Giants lost the game and Mays continued in his slump (he was 1 for 26 before he finally began to hit), but the electricity, the tingle, the fun of Willie Mays began then. And for those who saw him in his great days, it will never stop."
Back in the 1930s Detroit called itself the city of champions. Within a year or so, the Tigers won the World Series, the Lions won the National Football League championship, the Red Wings won hockey's Stanley Cup. And Joe Louis, who fought out of Detroit, was the best heavyweight boxer in the world, although not yet champion.
Nowadays, Detroit can call itself the city of losers, at least as far as the men who run pro teams there are concerned. Last November, Earl Lloyd was fired as coach of the basketball Pistons. In January, Joe Schmidt quit as coach of the Lions. In April, Johnny Wilson was fired as coach of the Red Wings. In September, Billy Martin was fired as manager of the Tigers.
It's lucky Detroit doesn't have a heavyweight champion. He'd be knocked on his ear.
EUPHORIA AND NEW BRUNSWICK
George Sheehan, the running doctor, takes issue with physiologists who dismiss the concept of "second wind" as old-fashioned, a figment of the athlete's imagination. Recalling a description of the second wind as "an almost miraculous refreshment and renewal of vigor," Sheehan says it does exist and that as a runner he experiences it almost daily. But you must lope along slowly at first, he says, like a primitive hunter off in search of his daily haunch of mastodon.
"If you start a training run at slow speed," he writes in his column in the Red Bank ( N.J.) Daily Register, "keeping well within yourself, at about six minutes this feeling of being the complete runner will steal over you and possess you. The only external sign for me is a warm, pleasant sweat. Inside is euphoria and the confidence I could run all the way to New Brunswick."