didn't hit for average the first year, he won game after game for us. With his
hitting, with his fielding, with his arm and with his base running. Especially
at the end.
The last two days
of the season we're playing in Boston. After being 13� behind, we've tied it
up, and I want to tell you, I was tight. A lot of times you'll see a club make
a big move, tie the score, and then somehow relax and tail off. It was Maglie
against Spahn, our best against their best.
The first time
Willie's up, he walks. I had a set of signals with Willie: if he wanted to
steal he would nod his head just enough so that the bill of his cap would bob.
If I wanted to give him the go-ahead I would show him the palm of my hand. I
look over to first and I think I see the bill of his cap bob. Now, Spahn had
the best move to first base anybody has ever seen. You didn't steal second base
on Spahn, you just tried not to get picked off. But, sure enough, the bill on
Willie's hat jumps again. He not only wants to run against Spahn, he wants to
run right now.
I tell you, it
was as if he had cut the tension with a knife. I'm sweating, and this rookie,
all he wants to do is run? You want to go, son, here's the palm. Go ahead.
Boom! He stole second base clean as a whistle, dusted off his pants and the cap
is going up and down again.
He stole third
just as easily, and scored on Don Mueller's single. We got two more runs before
the day was over but the game was won right there. He took the pressure right
off the whole club. Especially their dandy little manager.
The next year was
a complete reversal. When the Army finally grabbed him, after 34 games, we were
in first place by 2� games. Three days later we were out of first for good. The
following year, without Willie, we dropped to fifth place, 35 full games behind
Then Willie came
out of the Army and we won another pennant.
If I live to be
100 I will never forget the return of Willie Mays. We were out on the field
playing an intrasquad game early in spring training, and the first I knew he
was there was when one of the writers yelled, "Hey, Leo, here comes your
I rushed over and
gave him a hug. "As long as you're going to win the pennant for me," I
said to him, "you might as well get out there in center field where you
The first batter
hits a tremendous drive. No chance whatsoever to get it. Willie got it. First
time up he hits a single. Before it's over he wallops a home run. All I did was
sit there and smile. "It's only 240 days to World Series time," I said.
"Let's start printing the tickets now."