Not to get all Hackenbush on you, but I am gonna do a birthday post, because Willie Mays turns 81 today. The Say Hey Kid is into his eighties. Wow. Willie Mays is one of those players I am just a little to young to have seen and therefore, have no proper perspective for him. He is only described in hushed tones and with grand praise and from everything I have gathered, deservedly so. The numbers alone speak for themselves. He is always measured as one of the five best players of all time and it is pretty hard to build a case against that. The images of him are immense and heroic. Willie Mays will always be a myth to me, a larger than life figure. Forever catching the ball over his shoulder; forever hitting the ball into the San Francisco night.
Because all I have to remember Willie Mays, the baseball player, is a list of numbers and a bunch of picture cards, he is forever young. My opinion of him was forged through folklore and stories. I really love Willie Mays the baseball player. However...
...I also once met Willie Mays, the retired autograph seller. Now, I cannot imagine having a line of people I have never met all line up to get my signature on a photograph or a baseball. I also cannot imagine the stresses, the boredom, or even the burden of that. I have met a lot of sports stars this way and most of them have been friendly or at least cordial about the whole thing. Alas, like a lot of people I have spoken to, my experience with Willie Mays was not a good one. He did not look up. He would not shake my hand. He barely acknowledged my existence.
I have also seen Willie Mays interviewed and he loves to talk about baseball. He seems like an intelligent and friendly man. If he hates doing memorabilia shows so much, I think he could find a better way to spend his time, plus, no doubt a man of his fame could find other ways to make money. Much like most people would rather remember Willie Mays young and running first to third, losing his hat in a blur rather than the broken down player he was with the Mets, I would much rather remember Willie Mays, the baseball player and not Willie Mays, the retired autograph seller.
Lucky for me, I have never let my 30 seconds in the presence of Willie Mays taint any memory I have of him. Really, that's because I have no memory of him. He is still the myth. He is still larger than life. He is still forever young. Say Hey!
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