HOW WILLIE MAYS CHANGED THE FACE OF BASEBALL:
In celebration of the baseball legend’s 85th birthday, we explore Mays’s enduring spirit and his love of the sport despite facing many obstacles.-Tim Ott May 4, 2016
Willie Mays is about to turn 85. At this stage of his life, he’s an American icon, a revered ex-athlete who transcended the boundaries of his sport to become a shining example of American exceptionalism.
He’s also at a point where it’s easy to forget the fine print of his life story, a remarkable one considering that before he came along, the American public hadn’t experienced anyone quite like Willie Mays.
The baseball great was born in 1931 in Birmingham, Alabama, which means he came of age in a segregated society reeling from the Great Depression. Life was not easy, for the obvious reasons as well as those personal to his experience. Raised with little money, Mays at times went to school without wearing shoes, and he was separated from his mom when his parents split at an early age.
But Mays was also blessed in many ways. He was gifted with superior athletic genes — his dad and grandfather both played semi-pro baseball, and his mom starred in basketball and track in high school — and he always seemed to have the proper guidance in place. There were the two aunts who helped raise him as a child, and the grown men who took him under their wing when he began tagging along to his dad’s baseball games. Later, when he joined the New York Giants as a 20-year-old rookie, the team had him live with an older couple near their stadium, the Polo Grounds, and assigned a street-savvy boxing promoter to guide him around town.
Mays was also fortunate to come along when he did. In 1947, when Jackie Robinson was making headlines as baseball’s first black player in 63 years, the 16-year-old Mays was honing his skills with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. By 1950, following the successes of other black major leaguers like Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Larry Doby, Mays was ready for his turn.
Coming just three years after Robinson opened the door, the world wasn’t entirely a changed place. Mays was forced to adapt to hostile fans and separate eating and rooming facilities on minor league road trips, conditions that persisted even after he joined the Giants in May of 1951. At the time, white players were known to grumble about the increasing proliferation of blacks in the game. Even when Mays was making waves as a rookie, a cartoon in The Sporting News — a national publication — featured the young player delivering such embarrassing dialogue as “Ah gives base runners the heave ho!” Continue reading
MAY 2, 1928
With the bases loaded and two out in the ninth inning, Giants’ manager John McGraw orders that Dodger rookie Del Bissonette be intentionally walked with the bases loaded by Larry Benton, forcing home a run. The strategy works when Harry Riconda strikes out giving New York a 2-1 victory in the Polo Grounds contest.
MAY 2, 1956
During a game in which 48 players see action, Chicago’s third baseman Don Hoak strikes out a record six times against six different New York pitchers. The Giants outlast the Cubs in the 17-inning Wrigley Field marathon, 6-5.
BASEBALL CELEBRATES LIFE OF TRAILBLAZER IRVIN
HALL OF FAMER AND FORMER NEGRO LEAGUE PLAYER DIED IN JANUARY AT 96-By Mark Newman / MLB.com
Though you can’t see or touch me, I’ll be near,
And if you listen with your heart — you’ll hear,
All of my love around you soft and clear.
SOUTH ORANGE, N.J. — Monte Irvin was remembered with an inspirational “Celebration of Life” on Saturday morning at the South Orange Performing Arts Center, in the community where the Hall of Famer, Negro Leaguer, war veteran and New York Giants trailblazer grew up. Those apt verses from a poem were on the back of a program given to attendees whose lives he touched before his passing on Jan. 11 at age 96.
Giants president Larry Baer, whose club is in New York for a series against the Mets, was on hand to speak and called the celebration “a history lesson of America.” National Baseball Hall of Fame president Jeff Idelson told guests that “of all the talented men who made the perilous trip from the Negro Leagues to the big leagues in the late 1940s, Monte may have been the best.” Former National League president Bill White, Irvin’s former roommate, entered quietly and said he “had to be here.”
Speakers also included 1948 Olympic medalist and friend Herb Douglas; Rutgers professor Art Berke; Essex County executive Joseph DiVincenzo, who promised a seven-foot Irvin statue coming to the area in the near future; and Irvin’s daughters, Pat and Pam. But there was one especially notable face missing from this event, and there was good reason for it. Irvin’s protege and former Giants roommate, the great Willie Mays, wrote a letter and gave it to Baer to bring and read aloud — explaining that the Say Hey Kid is simply not ready to let go.
“You’re all going to hear a lot of things about Monte Irvin today,” wrote Mays, 84. “There is much to be said. He was a good man, a good father, a good baseball player, a great friend. You might all even think that you know all of the stories about Monte and me; that he was my first roommate, that he paved my way, that we were friends, good friends, and even that we opened a liquor store together. But I am not writing these words to repeat what you already know. I am writing these words first for his family, Pat and Pam, and then for the rest of you so that you will understand why I could not join you today.
“Monte came into my life at the beginning of my professional baseball career. I was very young, but like most youngsters, I thought I knew everything! Of course, I didn’t. But I wasn’t really open to learning. You could have put the smartest man in the world in front of me when I was young, and I’d have just turned up my nose and said, ‘Yeah, but can he hit?!’
“Monte let me know that he knew the things that I didn’t want him to know; the things I tried to hide or keep to myself. He knew when I was unsure of myself. He knew when I’d made a mistake, even when no one else could tell. He knew how to stay quiet when his presence was enough and he knew how to speak his mind when I needed talking to.
“Monte was wise and generous and as tough as they come. He was all the things you’ve heard, and he was more. There will never be another Monte Irvin.
“So you see, I just couldn’t be there today. I am not ready to say goodbye. Give me some time. I want to keep Monte alive in my mind.”
Irvin’s spirit was alive in the auditorium, as the “kilowatt smile” — Pam’s words — loomed overhead.
Love around you soft and clear. Continue reading
APRIL 30, 1944
In the first game of a doubleheader split, first baseman Phil Weintraub gets 11 RBIs, and player-manager Mel Ott scores six runs drawing five walks in the Giants’ 26-8 rout of the Dodgers.(Nationalpastime.com)
A full house of NY/SF Giants fans attended our meeting last night with SF Giants Beat Reporter for MLB.com Chris Haft. Chris spoke for 50 minutes about everything Giants baseball, past and present. We thank him and Jay Goldberg, proprietor of the Bergino Baseball Clubhouse www.bergino.com, for making it a special evening.
APRIL 29, 1922
The Giants hit four inside-the-park home runs at Braves Field in their 15-4 rout of Boston. George Kelly hits a pair with Ross Youngs and Dave Bancroft accounting for the other two 360-foot dashes around the bases. (Nationalpastime.com)
BASEBALL, HISTORY FANS FLOCK TO CARL HUBBELL’S FORMER HAWORTH HOME
BY ANDREW WYRICH
HAWORTH – The promise of getting a glimpse into the history of the country’s national pastime brought Don Sheridan, 57 of Emerson, to the home of former New York Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell on Sunday – and he didn’t come empty handed.
Sheridan brought a 1939 Carl Hubbell baseball card and donated it to the Friends of the Haworth Library, who hosted an all-day event to honor the former Giants player who lived in the borough from 1946 to 1950. Now Sheridan could contribute to others learning about the game, and its star players, in the future.
“I love baseball, and I came because I wanted to hear about the time when there were the Dodgers, Giants and Yankees all in one city,” he said.
Baseball enthusiasts like Sheridan, borough residents and even a distant relative came to Haworth on Sunday to celebrate the accomplishments and playing career of Hubbell.
Several events were planned by the Friends of the Haworth Library on Sunday – which the Borough Council proclaimed “Carl Owen Hubbell Day” – including an open house of the home the hall of famer resided in on Haworth Avenue, a lecture by a baseball historian and a display of New York Giants memorabilia that included several signed baseballs and other items related to Hubbell.
The Friends of the Haworth Library organized the event after the San Francisco Giants donated $500 to help finance a new addition to the Haworth Municipal Library in honor of their former pitcher who famously used a screwball to strikeout batters during his 16-year career. After retiring in 1943, Hubbell also worked as the director of the Giants’ farm system, even after the franchise relocated to San Francisco in 1958.
“He is one of Haworth’s most famous residents,” said Beth Potter, president of the Friends organization, adding that he served on the borough’s recreation commission during his time as a resident. “We feel like he may have fallen out into the baseball mist, so to speak, but when you read more about him, you realize he was an amazing player.”
Hubbell may be most remembered for his performance at the 1934 All Star Game at the old Polo Grounds, where he struck out future Hall-of-Famers Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Al Simmons and Joe Cronin in succession.
But he was certainly not a one-game wonder. At the end of his career, Hubbell had won more than 250 games, had an earned run average under 3.00 and struck out 1,600 batters, according to BaseballReference.com , a popular baseball statistics website. He was also voted most valuable player in the National League twice. Once he began running the organization’s farm system he oversaw the signing of Willie Mays and other great Giants players. Continue reading
APRIL 25, 1937
Cliff Melton becomes to first rookie to fan at least 10 batters in his major league debut, finishing with 13 strikeouts in a complete-game loss to the Braves at the Polo Grounds. The 25-year old southpaw, who loses the contest due to the Giants poor defense in the ninth inning, will hold the rookie record for K’s in his debut until Dodger freshman Karl Spooner whiffs 15 batters in his first major league start in 1954.(Nationalpastime.com)
APRIL 24, 1947
Johnny Mize homers three times against Johnny Sain in the Giants’ 6-2 victory over the Braves at the Polo Grounds. The ‘Big Cat’ becomes the first major leaguer to hit three home runs in one game five different times. (Nationalpastime.com)
APRIL 23, 1952
Giant hurler Hoyt Wilhelm homers in his first major league at-bat. In his second big league appearance at the plate two days later he will hit a three-bagger, but during the next 21 years, covering a span 1070 games, the knuckle-balling hurler will never triple or homer again.(Nationalpastime.com)