Randy Smith: Remembering The "Say Hey Kid"

  • Wednesday, June 19, 2024
  • Randy Smith
Randy Smith
Randy Smith
I never got to interview Willie Mays. I interviewed Mickey Mantle and Hank Aaron numerous times but never the "Say Hey Kid." I did have the privilege of seeing him play in person at Atlanta Fulton County Stadium back in the 1960s when I was a teenager and it seemed he always played his best baseball when I was there. Of course when you look at his career stats he seldom had a bad game.

Willie Mays passed away this week at the age of 93. The man who was the final part of my "Golden Age of Baseball," died peacefully at his home in Palo Alto, Ca.
surrounded by his family. He was called the Godfather of center fielders. A 24 time all-star selection, he is sixth all time in career home runs with 660 and had a career batting average of .301. Watching him play was a beautiful thing to behold. He had speed, power and an uncanny ability to make big plays defensively. His most famous defensive play was when he robbed Vic Wertz with an over the shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds. And he caught fly balls the wrong way. We were always taught to get under the ball and catch it out front and use two hands. Willie Mays always used a basket catch, hauling in routine fly balls around his waist.

It was a bit ironic that this week, Major League Baseball decided to honor the old Negro Leagues by playing a game at Birmingham's historic Rickwood Field. That's where Willie got his start as a member of the Birmingham Black Barons and get this...he started playing with the Black Barons at the age of 15.

At the time of his death, he was the oldest living Hall of Famer. He became the oldest when the great Tommy Lasorda passed away in 2021. Now the honor goes to Luis Aparacio who is 90 years old. There is always something magical about baseball Hall of Famers when they pass away. You can remember their stats, or remember great plays they made or big hits they had but I simply think of just watching Willie Mays play the greatest game ever. He was full of grace and athleticism and he always had a big smile on his face. I never saw him when he had a scowl on his face. It just didn't happen.

There have always been debates about who the greatest ball player ever was. But Willie Mays name was always mentioned...no matter who else was chosen. Whether it was Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, Hank Aaron or Stan Musial, Willie was in every conversation. Years ago when he was asked who he thought the greatest player ever was, he would say Joe DiMaggio. But later he said, "I always thought I was." And you know what...he was probably right.

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Randy Smith can be reached at rsmithsports@epbfi.com
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