Comfortably Zoned in a Vat o’ Pine Tar

May 5, 2021 at 1:50 pm (Comfortably Zoned in a Vat o' Pine Tar)

Happy Birthday, Willie Mays.

My upcoming book, features your life, in the first chapter.

CHAPTER ONE

It was my grandfather, Phil Niss, who lit the flames and Willie Mays who burned the embers of my love affair with Baseball.

And it was the plight suffered by my long-time friend Ferris Fain that turned me into a 420 activist.

Let’s start at the beginning, in 1951 my parents chose to travel the world and left me in the briar patch, with my grandparents Rose and Phil Niss.

As a teenager, Rose, escaped the pogroms in Russia, emigrating to New York. Her great sorrow emanated from losing contact with both of her brothers… and a great sorrow it was. After every kvetch-fest my Uncle Harold would declare, pensively, that he was just so proud of her for not being a complainer. “Throw me down the stairs, my slippers,” she’d bellow and before she could get the word, ‘stair’ out, there would be Phil, who would retain that first-step quickness well into his 80s, anxious to help… if only he could.

Phil was an absolute baseball fanatic. I was five years old when Phil took me to the Polo Grounds for the first time. It  was before Willie was called up and Bobby Thomson was playing center field. Weeks later we returned and there was Willie!! Pop was enthralled by him. He recognized instantly, Mays’ five-tool talents. We would sit in the grandstands in right field, First Row, almost directly above Don Mueller. Lockman at first, Stanky at second, Dark at short. Thompson at third, Irvin in right, and Westrum catching.  “The Barber,” Sal or  Hearn [pronounced Hoin] were invariably on the mound. These were my guys, and always will be. Sadly, only Willie, remains.

Collective Memories of Willie

Sixty-nine years later, but fresh in my mind’s eye as if it were yesterday, I can see number 24 sprinting across the massive expanse of green grass at the Polo Grounds.

All these years later I asked my fellow podcast hosts on the Comfortably Zoned Radio Network what they remember most about Willie.

Author and former Associated Press Sports Reporter, Hal Bock remembers Willie gliding over to right-field to practically take the ball out of Don Mueller’s glove, wheeling and throwing a perfect strike to Wes Westrum to NAB a surprised Billy Cox at the plate.

George Case III remembers his dad, a former Major League star  who owned a sporting goods store in Trenton, NJ. where Willie was making a minor league stop, up the ladder, getting a call from the Giants.  He was thrilled that Horace Stoneham picked him to “outfit the boy, and take good care of him, he’s going to be a good one.”

Dodger historian, Peter Trunk, who grew up worshipping Duke Snider, acknowledged that Willie was the greatest Baseball player of his time.

Baseball official scorer, Michael Duca who grew up listening to Vin Scully call Dodger games, remembers the dread in Scully’s voice  in an inning when #24 was going to come up.

Author Noel Hynd remembers Willie’s “grace and splendor.”

Top of Form

Bottom of Form

Willie On…

…  Baseball

“Baseball is a game, yes. It is also a business. But what it most truly is, is disguised combat. For all its gentility, it’s almost leisurely pace, baseball is violence under wraps.” Source Willie Mays (Arnold Hano)–

“Every time I look at my pocketbook, I see Jackie Robinson.”

… Racism

“I always enjoyed playing ball, and it didn’t matter to me whether I played with white kids or black. I never understood why an issue was made of who I played with, and I never felt comfortable, when I grew up, telling other people how to act. Over the years, a lot of organizations have asked me to be their spokesman, or have wanted me to make speeches about my experiences as a black athlete, or to talk to Congressmen about racial issues in sports. But see, I never recall trouble. I believe I had a happy childhood. Besides playing school sports, we’d play Baseball against the white kids. And we thought nothing of it, neither the blacks nor the whites. It was the grownups who got upset … I never got into a fight that was caused by racism.” Source: Say Hey : The Autobiography of Willie Mays (1988)

… His Greatest Moments

“I can’t tell you about moments because I wasn’t into that. I just played every day and enjoyed what I was doing. When I made a great catch it was just routine. I didn’t worry about it. Winning was important. Winning.”

“I didn’t think like that, about best seasons. What if you thought ’97 was your best year — what would you do now? I never looked back. I couldn’t dwell on last year’s season. I always looked forward. I never worried about what other people were doing — except the guy I was playing against.”

“I don’t compare ’em, I just catch ’em.”

“The catch off Bobby Morgan (a backhanded grab of the Brooklyn Dodger’s line drive in September 1951 at Ebbets Field) in Brooklyn was the best catch I ever made. Jackie Robinson and (Giants manager) Leo Durocher were the first people I saw when I opened my eyes,” – Source: Salon People (July 13, 1999)

… Being Compared to Others

“I don’t know what Joe (DiMaggio) wanted (in regards to being called ‘the greatest living ballplayer’), but I don’t have a problem, if he wanted to do that. He was my hero. Joe was the best all-around player. Joe was the best. I only played against him once, in the ’51 Series.”

“I think I was the best baseball player I ever saw.” Source: Newsweek (February 5, 1979)

… Dedication

“In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport. You must also be prepared to work hard and be willing to accept constructive criticism. Without one-hundred percent dedication, you won’t be able to do this.”

“If you can do that – if you run, hit, run the bases, hit with power, field, throw and do all other things that are part of the game – then you’re a good ballplayer.” Source: The Sporting News (July 25, 1970)

…Keeping it Simple

They throw the ball, I hit it. They hit the ball, I catch it.”

“Youngsters of Little League can survive under-coaching a lot better than over-coaching.”

“When I’m not hitting, I don’t hit nobody. But, when I’m hitting, I hit anybody.” Source: New York Times (April 25, 1976)

…Longevity

“Oh, it was difficult. Very difficult. I’ll say that to this day,. You know, a lot of people said when I was forty, I should quit, but I don’t think so. You should play as long as you can and as long as you enjoy the game. In ’73, I wasn’t enjoying the game, so I quit in May, I retired, and they wouldn’t let me retire. So I finished up in the World Series. But I say to players: Play as long as you can, because you only have one chance.”

What his peers had to say about Willie

“As a batter, his only weakness is a wild pitch.” – Bill Rigney

“But when he (Willie Mays) was in California, whites refused to sell him a house in their community. They loved his talent, but they didn’t want him for a neighbor.” – Jackie Robinson.

He was something like zero for twenty-one the first time I saw him. His first major league hit was a home run off me and I’ll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if I’d only struck him out.” – Braves Warren Spahn. (1951)

“He would routinely do things you never saw anyone else do. He’d score from first base on a single. He’d take two bases on a pop-up. He’d throw somebody out at the plate on one bounce. And the bigger the game, the better he played.” Giants president Peter Magowan

“I can’t believe that Babe Ruth was a better player than Willie Mays. Ruth is to baseball what Arnold Palmer is to golf. He got the game moving. But I can’t believe he could run as well as Mays, and I can’t believe he was any better an outfielder.” – Sandy Koufax.

“I can’t very well tell my batters don’t hit it to him. Wherever they hit it, he’s there anyway.” – Gil Hodges.

“I didn’t know (after seeing a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch) whether to shit or go blind.” – San Francisco Giants Outfielder Harvey Kuenn.

“If he could cook, I’d marry him.” Leo Durocher, 1951)

“If you putWilliw Mays and Mickey Mantle next to Mark McGwire, they’d look like his grand kids.” – Seattle Mariners Shortstop Alex Rodriguez, (1998).

“I’m not sure what the hell charisma is but get the feeling it’s Willie Mays.” – Ted Kluszewski.

“I never saw a fucking ball go out of a fucking ballpark so fucking fast in my fucking life.” – Leo Durocher, (1951) “I think it’s incredible because there were guys like Mays and Mantle and Henry Aaron who were great players for ten years… I only had four or five good years.” – Sandy Koufax “I used to dream how good it would be to be Willie Mays or Mickey Mantle.. My dreams have died. Even the rotten rings (World Series) aren’t what they’re supposed to be. I’ll buy my own diamonds. I can afford it now. No one gives you anything, you’ve got to get it for yourself.” – Reggie Jackson. “Joe Louis, Jascha Heifetz, Sammy Davis and Nashua rolled into one.” -Leo Durocher (describing Mays) “Mr. (Bowie) Kuhn told Willie Mays to get out of baseball. I would like to offer the same advice to Mr. Kuhn.” – Frank Sinatra (1979) “No man in the history of baseball had as much power as Mickey Mantle. No man. You’re not talking about ordinary power. Dave Kingman has power. Willie Mays had  power. Then when you’re talking about Mickey Mantle – it’s an altogether different level. Separates the men from the boys.” – New York Yankees Manager Billy Martin. Reggie Jackson couldn’t shine Willie Mays’ shoes. He never hit .300, he’s a butcher in the outfield and he’s got a big mouth. What does he make, $8,000 a week? I wouldn’t pay him $8 a week. He’s a bum.” – Major League Manager Leo Durocher (1980) “Babe Ruth never played a night game, he never hit against fireball relief pitching, he never traveled cross-country for a night game and played a day game the next day, he never performed before millions of television viewers, he never had to run on artificial turf. It is the changes in the game, the modern factors that have made the game more difficult, that bring Babe in here as number three, behind Willie Mays  and Hank Aaron. His feats were heroic. So were theirs. They simply did them under tougher conditions.” – Maury Allen ” Duke Snider, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays. You’d get a fat lip in any saloon by starting an argument as to which was best. One point was beyond argument, though. Willie was by all odds the most exciting.” – Sportswriter Red Smith “The front office will make up his salary on a good weekend. They can make up my salary with a rainout.” – New York Mets Reliever Danny Frisella, (1972) “The only man who could have caught that ball just hit it.” – Common Radio Announcer Saying “There are 499 Major League ballplayers. Then there’s Willie Mays.” – SABR member   “There have been only two geniuses in the world. Willie Mays and Willie Shakespeare. But, darling, I think you’d better put Shakespeare first.” – Actress Tallulah Bankhead (1962) “They invented the All-Star game for Willie Mays..” – Ted Williams. ” Willie Mays and his glove. Where triples go to die.” – Los Angeles Dodgers Executive Fresco Thompson “Willie Mays, the ‘Say Hey Kid,’ played with enthusiasm and exuberance while excelling in all phases of the game — hitting for average and power, fielding, throwing and base running.” – National Baseball Hall of Fame “You used to think if the score was 5-0, he’d hit a five-run homer.” –     Reggie Jackson.

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