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Willie broods when he makes an error. "It makes me feel bad if I don't hit or if I let the pitcher down by making a bad play. It worries me real bad. I don't cry or nothing like that, but I feel like it sometimes because I feel like I let the other fellows down."
Most of the Giants do sometimes show a cynical, if appreciative, attitude toward Willie's flair for dramatics. For instance, when a fast pitch hit the handle of Willie's bat in an exhibition game with the Red Sox this spring, there were snorts and guffaws in the dugout when he threw himself to the ground and writhed convulsively. Somebody made the standard comment: "He oughta get an Oscar for that." A few days later, when Willie shuffled into the dugout after going to the hospital to be treated for a gash in the right leg received in a sliding accident, everybody grinned and Coach Salty Parker cracked, "What are you trying to pull now, Willie?" The grins faded when Willie said cheerfully, "Man, I got 35 stitches in this leg." Fortunately, the wound was not serious despite all the sewing.
As the biggest Giant of them all, drawing the biggest salary ever paid in Giant history, probably $75,000 a year, Willie naturally awes some of the newcomers. He pays them the compliment of treating them like everybody else, and also of overlooking their gaucheries. This was illustrated recently when a young and nameless pitcher, up for a tryout, sauntered out to face Willie in batting practice. He was overly nonchalant, so poker-faced that it was screamingly apparent that he was scared to death to find himself facing the great Mays.
"You got a curve?" Willie called.
"Yeah," the youngster said. He heaved the ball. Willie smacked it over the fence. The pitcher didn't look up.
"You got something else?" Willie called.
"Yeah," the youngster grunted. He heaved another ball. Willie smashed it solidly and it sizzled three feet off the ground, straight as a bullet, and smacked the pitcher in the right leg a little above the knee. It happened so incredibly quickly that he didn't have time to lower his glove. The crack of the bat and the solid sound of ball meeting flesh in a paralyzing blow almost blended together. A sudden silence fell over the players clustered behind the batting cage. Willie lowered his bat and looked solicitous. But the young pitcher did not wince, grimace or even look down at his leg. Apparently he was manfully determined to show that getting his leg almost knocked off with a ball didn't faze him in the slightest.
After a moment, Hank Sauer, who had been watching, laughed, "You'll have to hit harder than that, Willie. That boy won't even have a bruise next week this time."
Willie looked with seeming bewilderment at the young pitcher, nonchalantly toeing up for another pitch. A grin began to tug at the corners of Willie's mouth, but, diplomatically, he kept it from spreading.
Being the star of any team carries with it some special privileges. They are not defined because they depend on the individual star and what the traffic will bear. So far the only privilege Willie has claimed is a room to himself when the Giants are on the road. He invariably is among the first to arrive at the ball park and among the last to leave. Sportswriters who follow the Giants around are agreed that Willie is one of the hardest-working players they have ever seen. There was considerable indignation in their ranks when word got around toward the end of the 1956 season that Willie had been fined $25 for not hustling on a play in a game in St. Louis. In the play in question Willie had popped up but didn't run because he thought the ball was going foul. It was caught in front of the plate. All set to whip up a cause célèbre because a hard-working player had been fined for not hustling when all he was guilty of, if anything, was an error of judgment, the scribes bearded Manager Bill Rigney. Yes, said Rigney, the report was true. Willie had returned to the dugout and said, "I should be fined for that." Whereupon Rigney had said, "That's right. You are fined. Twenty-five bucks." Then Rigney put the matter to rest. "I have," he announced, "withdrawn the fine, because Mays is the hustlingest guy in the world."