As a member of Bill Kent's NY Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society, darthmaz & I were able to attend the Giants return to New York, as they displayed their World Series trophy. More importantly on the bill was special guest, the great Willie Mays.
The event was held at the Westin Hotel on 42nd St. off 3rd Ave, for invited guests only. The room was full of a huge group of Giants fans, many of them, long time New York Giants fans from the days of the Polo Grounds. They came from all over the country for this very special event. The Giants baseball club, remembers its roots in New York & continues to honor it's history in the city. The team was actually in New York City longer than they have been in San Francisco.
The Giants brought along their top Management; Brian Sabean, Larry Baer & owner Peter Magowan. McGowan, born in New York, told his interesting story of how he grew up a Giants fan, watching Willie Mays at the Polo Grounds. Heartbroken as 14 year old, when the Giants left New York, his family also soon moved out West as well. Eventually Magowan, the grandson to Merrill Lynch & Safeway co-founder, would become the principal owner of the Giants in 1993. He rebuilt the franchise, kept the team in San Francisco, built a new ballpark & has made them one of the most successful teams of this era.
The highlight of this day for me & everyone else was being in the same room as Willie Mays. He received a standing ovation as he entered the room & again when he spoke. His speeches & stories were outstanding.
When the Sey Hey Kid talks about baseball, he lights up & has a passion in his voice. You can feel his excitement, love & respect for the game, even after all these years. He remembered how New York embraced him as a 19 year old rookie, when he arrived from Birmingham, Alabama. Team mate Sid Gordon said to him, "welcome home Willie" & he said "welcome home? I'm from Alabama"!
He was scared of the big city & the big leagues as well, in the very beginning. He spoke with high praise of how Leo Durocher & his wife, actress Lorraine Day cared for him. The team had him live with a family in Washington Heights & had a responsible adult stay with him at all times, so he could not get into trouble in the big city. New York will always be a home for him.
He said he wanted to retire before the final season of his career, while playing with the 1973 Mets. He asked the advice of a local sports writer & when he hit five HRs in spring training, he felt he could do one more year. He said it was a thrill to play in another World Series for New York. Mays said he felt the Mets had the better team & should have won that 1973 World Series over Oakland.
On no one getting into the Hall of Fame this year, he said it's up to the writers, but he feels someone should get into the Hall every year. It's good for baseball, as well as the Hall of Fame itself, in Cooperstown.
He was asked about his legendary four HR game, against the Milwaukee Braves in 1961. Sharp as a tack, he seemed to remember every detail of the day. He said he wasn't even going to play that day, because he had eaten ribs that night before & his stomach felt ill. But Joe Amalfitano's came to him & said "I got your bat, I got your bat". Then during batting practice he hit four HRs & put himself back in the lineup, telling his manager "the bat told me to play".
Although he hit four HRs that day, he said he hit another long ball that game that Hank Aaron caught as it was going over the fence. Then in the top of the 9th inning, he was on deck, ready at a chance to hit number five on the day, but Jim Davenport grounded out to end the game. He said he still bothers Davenport about that to this day.
When asked who were the toughest pitchers he faced he said, early in his career Ewell Blackwell (known as the whip) hit him on his shoulder & he cried for a half hour. Don Drysdale was like a daddy to him, he said just lie down right there. Sandy Koufax was a gentleman, he just threw the ball right by you. And Bob Gibson, who gets mad when called a head hunter, was just that.
It was an honor to be at this event , to see & hear Mays speak, telling these classic stories. My only regret is that there was no photo opportunity with Willie. Mays acted like a true gentleman, a true professional. He was very humble with a great sense of humor & still presents himself like a role model. He was very grateful for all the opportunities & successes he has had in his life. Certainly a lesson for us all, thanks Willie. (last photo from NY Post)