Thursday, June 20, 2024

Say Hey Another Great Gone

As you grow older the parents, relatives, other adults, childhood heroes, favorite musicians, childhood sports favorites, and others, grow older along with you.

Eventually, they all pass on, as you know (intellectually) you will also, one day.

This is life, and we must accept it.

Tuesday, another sports figure of my youth passed away.  Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid [so named because it was how he greeted people in his youth], was 93.

True, Willie Mays was one of the greats of the sports of baseball. Many consider him the greatest all around baseball player of all time.    What statistics he compiled in his career in all categories of baseball play.  He entertained with his smile and showmanship.  

Mays eventually won the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States.

Also, consider this:  Mays grew up in Alabama, in the segregated  South.  He started his career in the Negro League, which existed because Major League baseball did not admit black ballplayers at the time.  Mays may have ended up having a spectacular career without much of our population ever knowing, or perhaps caring, if history didn't provide otherwise.

Ironically, Major League Baseball held a major league game yesterday in the same park as Willie's Negro League team, the Birmingham Black Barons, once played.  Willie had already announced he would not be able to make that ballgame. 

It was only earlier this month that Major League baseball included statistics from the Negro League in the stats of former Negro League players who had entered the major leagues after integration. 

Ironically, perhaps, I learned of May's death Tuesday evening while watching a New York Mets game with my spouse.

So,where do I fit into this?

Neither of my parents followed baseball, but I somehow found (and loved) watching games, starting around age eight.  In high school and college, I went to a handful of games with friends. Also, I met another New York Mets fan (the spouse mentioned above) in college. By the fall of 1972, we were engaged.

In May of 1972, Willie Mays, at the tail end of his career, was traded to the New York Mets.  We in New York loved Willie Mays.  He had started his major league career (once he could play in it) with the New York Giants.  It was a homecoming.

In 1973, the Mets didn't play well for most of the year,and by the end of August they were in last place.  But then, they started a winning streak.  By September 21 they were in first place. It was such an exciting time.  We went to some games.  By then, Willie Mays wasn't playing every day (he only played in 66 games total).  For me, it was enough to be in the same park as him.  

On September 20, Mays announced he was going to retire after the season ended.

On September 25 the Mets held a Willie Mays celebration at Shea Stadium.  Some 53,000 fans showed up.  My future spouse and I were two of them, and we, his fans, gave him a six minute standing ovation.

You can hear Willie Mays' speech here.

Mays never played in the regular season again, but he played in several postseason games.  We went to at least one of those, game five of the playoff vs. the Cincinnati Reds, where the Mets won the National League pennant. We were also at game three, where Mays went out with several other Mets players to calm fans successfully, and prevent the Mets from forfeiting the game, after a brawl. 

Mays' last base hit was in game two of the 1973 World Series, held in Oakland, California.

We went to World Series game three, in New York, and that was my last major league game ever.  I don't know if I will ever go to another one.  Such again is life.

I haven't been a baseball fan for many years, but I still admire the players from my era and before.  For example, seeing Bob Feller play the year before he passed away was a highlight of my life.

What a thrill to have been able to be present at a couple of historic points of baseball history.

Yesterday, there was a moment of silence before all major league games.  

Willie Mays is gone, as we all will be one day.  Life will go on, but many will miss him.  I am one of them.

May Willie Mays rest in peace.



  1. A legend.

  2. What a lovely, heartfelt eulogy. Those memories will remain forever.

  3. I am envious of your time at Shea,

    Bud Harrelson, who was part of that brawl, died earlier this year. So sad to see how many of my childhood sports heroes are gone. Willie Mays was a class act,

  4. What a thrill to see Willie Mays playing live. He was a legend while he was still playing.
    When I lived in Houston in the 19870's I attended lots of Astros games and got to see Nolan Ryan pitch quite a bit. When he was on his game, he was electrifying. I almost always score games that I attend life and have several of when Ryan was pitching.

  5. thecontemplativecat here. I recall Mays well, as well as Jackie Robinson. The broke a barriar.

  6. thecontemplativecat here. Mays and Robinson set a standard of behavior, being an Honorable man, and playing to the strength.

  7. He was a great player and, by all accounts of those who knew him, a great human being. His influence is inestimable.

  8. He lived a good long life, and he's rightfully being remembered as one of the greats.


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