Willie Mays began his Hall of Fame career in New York with the Giants. As the Giants moved West, Mays went with them. A minority share holder in the Giants was Mrs. Joan Payson, she voted the team to stay in New York.
Eventually she & her husband, ship magnate, Charles Payson became the principal owners of the expansion New York Mets, with Mrs. Payson handling the baseball operations. The first woman owner in baseball & a huge fan of the game. She loved her Mets & Willie Mays. She finally got him to back in New York at the end of his career.
Mays was a legend in New York & one of baseballs most popular players ever. He is arguably the best all around player to ever play the game. Willie was at the end of his storied career when he arrived in 1972.
The Mets probably would have won the 1973 Pennant without him, but his presence was a true inspiration for that team. The young players learned a lot from Willie & he is forever associated with the 1973 NL Champions.
As a kid, and a fam who lived for that team, Mays was one of my favorites right next to Tom Seaver.
Mays remained with the Mets as a part time coach until 1979 & gets paid $100,000 a year from them for life, as per Mrs. Payson. She also promised Mays, that her wishes were that no future Met, would wear his #24. Mrs. Payson passed away in 1975 & the organization went down the tubes. By 1979 Mays left the organization and his ties with them almost forgotten.
No one wore the uniform number 24 for eleven years, when in 1990 a short time Player named Kelvin Torve was issued the number. The Mets clubhouse staff made a huge mistake, having #24 with Torve's names issued.
Torve was unaware of the history of his #24. Thrilled to be in a big league uniform, he found it waiting for him at his locker, put it on & went about his buisness. Torve played seven home games at Shea Stadium with #24 & then went on the road to none other than San Francisco, Willie's other long time home.
The hate mail & the phone calls flooded the Mets offices. Old time Fans were outraged that anyone else was wearing Mays #24, especially an unknown rookie. Imagine if there were blogs, social media & the ridiculous over the top, media coverage that there is today!
Torve gladly gave up the number & 24 was safe for another nine years. In 1999 the Mets acquired Rickey Henderson, he chose to use his traditional #24 & the Mets gave it to him. Now Henderson is a Hall of Famer, but he is certainly no Willie Mays, neither as a player or as a gentleman. He would wear the number until he was released in the Mets 2000 Pennant season but then had it back as a coach (2006-2007).
It took another 19 years before the Mets let Robinson Cano wear the number. By now most younger fans don't know about Willie or his Met association, and probably don't even care. It's just the another case in how MLB is getting further & further away from its past, forgetting about baseball's great history.
It's very sad how Mays is no longer attached to the Mets organization. He was a legend from the Classic Era of New York Baseball, representing National League baseball in the Great city.
The Giants & Dodgers left New York in 1958, but the Mets carry on that National League New York Baseball tradition since 1962. Mays was brought back to New York for that nostalgia.
The Wilpons who have kept this organization from succeeding so many times, have helped remove Mays association with the Mets. Fred Wilpon's obsession with the Brooklyn Dodgers is probably the biggest selfish contribution to that.
He chose to honor Jackie Robinson & the Brooklyn Dodgers at Citi Field, but not Mays or the Giants. Remember, Mays actually spent eight years as a player & coach with the Mets.
I understand the importance of Jackie Robinson & respect him as the pioneer & fierce competitor he was. But Willie Mays quietly did big things with all his greatness & popularity as well.
Mays may also very well be, the most popular National League Player to ever play in New York. He was legendary when he lived in the city, on the streets of Harlem, playing stickball with the kids up until the time he got married.
On a pilgrimage to the old Polo Grounds site, I stood at the approximate spot of home plate & imagined all the great Giant ghosts of the past.
I thought of Willie patrolling the vast centerfield, as I looked out to where that may have been. But my eyes caught sight, of a modern day school, named the Jackie Robinson School. Even the City of New York couldn't get it right.
The Giants & Dodgers rivalry was more bitter than any teams today. To have these two great names cross paths on enemy baseball grounds is a baseball sin. I'm sure neither player, although respectful of each other, would not approve of the irony, knowing the fierce competitors they are/were. Remember at the end of his career, Robinson chose to retire, rather than except a trade to the hated Giants.
Maybe a Willie Mays school? Are there any Willie Mays sites in Brooklyn or LA??
It's safe to say that #24 will probably not be retired by the Mets, but maybe a Willie Mays statue or tribute.