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Then King wrote: "The 'he' Mays referred to was Snider, his archrival. On Wednesday night Duke did play a single by Mays badly, and the result was a two-base error. But Snider chased the ball madly. That's what Willie didn't get—the difference in attitude.... Snider knew he couldn't retrieve a miss in center in the Polo Grounds but he didn't give up. Willie did."
King was freely criticized for the column and blamed for building a molehill into a mountain. Even Duke Snider was quoted as saying, "What are they getting on Willie for? They expect you to perform miracles every day. Willie does a lot of great things over there. And what about his explanation? He said he saw Mueller going after the ball and Mueller was closer to it. Isn't that enough?"
No, it isn't enough. Ask Enos Slaughter, who at 39 still races around the bases even on home runs poled into the seats, who runs to first base head down and all-out even on one-bounce taps back to the pitcher. Ask Billy Klaus, who didn't believe it when logic said he would never ever be a major leaguer and who this year is the key player on a team that doesn't believe it either. Ask Nelson Fox or Phil Rizzuto or Eddie Stanky. Baseball is a game that depends for its appeal on the dramatic, the melodramatic, the promise of the impossible. You don't give up; you can't concede.
The ball-chasing thing was only one incident, of course, one little lapse in one unimportant game. But it—and Mays's attitude—shocked those who last year reveled in the sight of Mays—the player of players, the one you've waited all your life to see.
WILLIE THE INCREDIBLE
Last year, you may remember, was the year of the Giants and the year of Willie Mays. It was the year Willie Mays vs. Duke Snider was a major subplot sharing stage space with the principal drama of the first-place struggle between the Giants and the Dodgers. No matter how many sound, logical, mathematical arguments the Snider camp raised to prove that the Duke was better, they were demolished by statements like, "Yeah, yeah, yeah, but Willie—he's incredible."
Before one night game in the Polo Grounds last year, with over 50,000 people in the stands, a cluster of photographers waited in deep center field outside the clubhouse. After a few minutes they brought Willie and the Duke out to pose for pictures. Up in the right field grandstand a Giant fan said, as you may suspect, "That Willie Mays, he's unbelievable."
After the photographers had finished, Mays and Snider began to walk in across the outfield to their respective dugouts on either side of the infield. Before he had gone five steps, Mays, carrying a bat, broke into a trot and ran all the way in. Snider continued to walk.
The Giant fan stood up and crowed. "That's the difference," he yelled. "Look at that. That's the difference!" And though the woman who liked Snider turned and looked at him with an expression of disgust, he was right. That was the difference. Last year.