Just having him
on the club, you had 30% the best of it before the ball game started. In each
generation there are one or two players like that, men who are winning players
because of their own ability and their own—what?—no, luck isn't the word. The
word is magnetism, a personal magnetism that draws everybody to them with the
feeling that this is the man who will carry them to victory. Babe Ruth had it,
and so did Dizzy Dean, Jackie Robinson and Pepper Martin. My definition of
Willie Mays walking into a room is the chandeliers shaking. And what made him
even more appealing was that he didn't know it.
I first heard
about Mays when Eddie Montague, a Giant scout who had been sent to look over a
first baseman in Birmingham, came back with a report that said, "I don't
know about the first baseman, but they got a kid playing center field
practically barefoot that's the best ballplayer I ever looked at. You better
send somebody down there with a barrelful of money and grab this kid." The
Giants bought him for something like $13,000, and then Willie said, "I
didn't get nothing," and Horace Stoneham, the owner of the Giants, gave him
He was sent to
Trenton in the Interstate League, and the next spring a scout in that area told
me I hadn't seen anything until I saw a kid named Willie Mays play center
Well, I'm pretty
broad-minded. Two scouts out of two tell me we've got the greatest player who
ever lived on our hands, I'm willing to take a look at him. And I couldn't get
the Giants to bring him to camp. Not ready. After all, he had not yet turned
20. "O.K., he's not good enough. O.K., he's just a baby. O.K., I can't have
him. At least give me a chance to see him play, will you? Let me see the kid
So they arranged
to play a morning game for me at our minor league camp in Sanford, Fla. between
our two top farm clubs, Minneapolis and Ottawa. Mr. Stoneham, Carl Hubbell,
head of the Giant farm system at the time, and I sat in the bleachers along
with a scattering of fans who had drifted in to see what was happening. I could
tell you everything Mays did that day. He made a couple of great catches in the
outfield. He threw a guy out trying to go from first to third on a base hit
into left-center. A shot. Threw another guy out at the plate late in the game.
A shot. Hit a bullet into right-center for two his first time up. Struck out on
a sidearm curve. Popped up. The last time he came up, Red Hardy, a good veteran
pitcher, tried to get him with the sidearm curve again, and Mays hit it over
the clubhouse in left field, about 370 feet away.
huh?" I said. "Not much he's not ready. I want him."
I couldn't have
him. We got off to a horrible start that year—the year of Thomson's homer—and
after every game I screamed a little louder. How many did they want me to lose
before they gave me any help?
him," Stoneham kept saying. "The boy's going into the service any
into the service—and he's not ready!" I yelled. "And he's only hitting
.477 at Minneapolis. Let him come up here and hit a few of those for me before
he goes, huh?"
So, finally I got
him. He joined us in Philadelphia for our 37th game, arriving in the clubhouse
after we had dressed and gone out onto the field. And I saw something then that
I had never seen before in my life. The Philadelphia ball club was warming up
on the sidelines getting ready to take infield practice when Willie stepped
into the batting cage for the first time, and every player stopped dead in his
tracks and watched him. He hit balls on top of the roof, into the upper deck,
the lower deck, all over the park, and everything he hit was a screamer.