- Explore more great deals on thousands of titles in our Deals in Books store.
Enter your mobile number or email address below and we'll send you a link to download the free Kindle App. Then you can start reading Kindle books on your smartphone, tablet, or computer - no Kindle device required.
To get the free app, enter your email address or mobile phone number.
Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend Hardcover – Bargain Price, February 9, 2010
|New from||Used from|
Top 20 lists in Books
View the top 20 best sellers of all time, the most reviewed books of all time and some of our editors' favorite picks. Learn more
Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought
Special Offers and Product Promotions
Considered to be "as monumental--and enigmatic--a legend as American sport has ever seen" (Sports Illustrated), Willie Mays is arguably the greatest player in baseball history, still revered for the passion he brought to the game. He began as a teenager in the Negro Leagues, became a cult hero in New York, and was the headliner in Major League Baseball's bold expansion to California. With 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, and 338 stolen bases, he was a blend of power, speed, and stylistic bravado that enraptured fans for more than two decades. Now, in the first biography authorized by and written with the cooperation of Willie Mays, James Hirsch reveals the man behind the player.
Willie is perhaps best known for "The Catch"--his breathtaking over-the-shoulder grab in the 1954 World Series. But he was a transcendent figure who received standing ovations in enemy stadiums and who, during the turbulent civil rights era, urged understanding and reconciliation. More than his records, his legacy is defined by the pure joy that he brought to fans and the loving memories that have been passed to future generations so they might know the magic and beauty of the game. With meticulous research, and drawing on interviews with Mays himself as well as with close friends, family, and teammates, Hirsch presents a complex portrait of one of America's most significant cultural icons.
A Conversation with Author James Hirsch
Q: As a baseball fan, what were your impressions of Willie Mays before you first approached him regarding a book?
A: I never actually saw him play, but I grew up in St. Louis, and Cardinal announcer Jack Buck used to describe Mays as "the greatest player I ever saw" and speak of him with such reverence that the name itself was pure magic. Over the years, I read some stories about him and saw some video clips, and my impression was of a player who had mastered all parts of the game. As it happened, that impression didn't change. In considering who the greatest player of all time was, I conclude that Babe Ruth was baseball's most dominant player while Willie Mays was its greatest master.
Q: The biography includes a rich description and analysis of “The Catch”--the play in the 1954 World Series for which Willie Mays is perhaps best known. What were your sources for this passage? How much time did you spend researching and crafting it? Was it more, or less, difficult to write than any other given passage in the book?
A: Willie himself has discussed "The Catch" many times over the years, including in the locker room immediately after the game. The key, for me, was to capture not just his athletic skill but the true artistry of the moment. I found an interview that Willie gave in the 1990s in which he walked through the mental calculations he made while running toward the centerfield fence, trying to determine how he was going to throw the ball before the runner on second could tag up and score. It was Willie's most scientific, but also his most elegant, account of the play.
Beyond filling in the gaps with Willie in person, I interviewed as many people I could find who saw the play, including players (Alvin Dark, Monte Irvin, Al Rosen) and sportswriters (Roger Kahn, Robert Creamer), and I culled the many descriptions of it that have been recorded, including from the hitter Vic Wertz and the second base umpire, Jocko Conlan. All told, I had about 35 eyewitness accounts. Given the wealth of information--Arnold Hano wrote an entire book about "The Catch"--the biggest challenge was finding some fresh angles.
It was often said that "The Catch" was Willie's signature play. But it was more than that. It established the Willie Mays brand name--to this day, you can go to any ball field, watch a kid make a catch over his shoulder, and someone will scream, "Willie Mays!" I don't believe there is anything comparable with any athlete in any sport. What's also important is that "The Catch" now lives in the film footage that is played over and over on TV or on computers. The film is in black-and-white, but the following year, the World Series was filmed in color. Symbolically, we passed into the modern era--and indeed, Willie played most of his career in what we would consider the modern era, defined in part by the relocation of teams, World Series night games, and the widening financial divide between players and their fans. Yet Willie's defining moment placed him in that earlier era--the black-and-white television age, if you will--when players were more integrated into their communities, World Series games started in the afternoon, and owners didn't betray fans. Willie Mays, through the constant showing of "The Catch," has become our touchstone to that bygone era.
Q:How would you sum up Mays’s legacy, both within the game of baseball and outside of it?
A: That was the single most important question I wanted to answer, and I discovered it when I went to speak to my son's second-grade class. After talking to the students about how to write stories, I asked how many of them had heard of Willie Mays. I was shocked by how many hands went up--most of the boys, and some of the girls. I asked how they knew about Willie. Some had seen "The Catch" on ESPN, but many told me that their fathers, or their grandfathers, or their uncles had told them about "the great Willie Mays." The kids didn't really know anything about Willie, except that he represented this platonic ideal of baseball perfection. It was then that I realized Willie's legacy is not his numbers, his records, or the games he helped win. It is the pure joy that he brought to those fans who watched him and the loving memories that have been passed to future generations so they might know the magic and beauty of the game.
Q:Why do you think Willie Mays finally agreed to be interviewed extensively for a biography?
A:Timing was part of the reason. Willie was 77 when I first met him, and I believe he was ready to reflect on the totality of his life and encourage those around him to do so well. I was a complete stranger to Willie, but I now believe that helped me. Willie is extraordinarily proud of his life--quite mindful of that trajectory, from a poor, Depression-era black kid from the Deep South to someone who now rides on Air Force One with the president. While I asked Willie to do something that he really doesn't enjoy--talk about himself--I believe that he wanted an outsider to independently validate his accomplishments as well as disappointments.
Q:What was your most unexpected discovery while researching and writing Willie Mays?
A:Willie made baseball look so easy that most people assumed he just took the field and breezed through the season. Henry Aaron told me that some of the black players, who had to work extra hard just to keep their spots on the roster, resented Willie because he made baseball look so effortless. The fact is, even Willie's peers had no appreciation of his sacrifices, both physical and emotional. Those sacrifices caused Willie to be hospitalized on several occasions during his career--he was simply too tired to compete, and the pressure of being Willie Mays was at times too great even for Willie Mays. That was a surprise, but the revelation also made Willie a more human and sympathetic figure.
Look Inside Willie Mays (Photos Courtesy of Willie Mays)
Click on each image below to see a larger view
| || |
Mae Allen Mays set aside her career as a
social worker to be Willie's life partner
and soul mate.
Mays's long history of helping children reflects
his belief that kids, unlike adults, will always
appreciate your efforts and will never betray you.
From Publishers Weekly
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
More About the Author
Top Customer Reviews
I feel a bit of sadness about Willie, having read this book, the same sadness I had as a 9-year-old in 1973, watching him stumble when rounding second, trying to go from first to third on a single, in the 1973 World Series, and having to crawl back to second.
Whether due more to innate personality tendencies, his own reactions to segregation in his native Alabama in general, or associated with baseball, his family of origin, or a combination of this and more, it's sad that he doesn't open up even more.
And while I, being Caucasian, am in no position to judge Willie on his activism in civil rights, and agree with him that we don't all have the same temperament, Hirsch does show how Robinson and Aaron could wish so hard for more from him and be frustrated he didn't give that.
But, Mays ultimately lived for baseball above all else. And Hirsch shows that, too.
Speaking of that, I'm sure Bowie Kuhn's ban on Mays' associating with baseball while doing casino work had to kill him. Something else it would have been nice to have him open up more about.
But, the not opening up is itself part of Mays. Hirsch also does a good job of showing how Mays, in his own quiet way, refuted or rejected various stereotypes.
A good sports bio.
When he signed with the New York Giants he had a meteoric rise through the minors and when the Giants promoted him from Minneapolis to New York the fans loved him so much in Minneapolis the Giants owner placed an ad in the Minneapolis paper apologizing for taking Willie away from them.Read more ›
I was one of those who grew up and into my adulthood thinking that Willie Mays was the best ballplayer of all time. This book confirms that. Now I know for sure that he was. Not only was a genuine, all-around, complete ballplayer, but he was a gentleman, modest, and a very kind man. He was and still is my hero. God Bless Willie Mays. And God Bless James Hirsch for writing this wonderful biography.
Some reviewers say the author spends too much time on the Civil Rights era and not enough time on Mays himself. Huh?? Here's a quote from one:
"...what the reader gets is a history of Civil Rights, Jim Crow Laws, and a period in American that most people would soon forget. Less than 25% of book is devoted to the story behind Willie Mays, his fellow ball players, and the game itself."
To me, this is a totally unjustified criticism. How could one possibly write a definitive biography about an African-American superstar, agruably the greatest player of all time, who broke into the Major Leagues in 1951 just a few years after Jackie Robinson, and ignore this important topic, or fail to develop it fully. What credible author would produce a biography like that? Can you imagine the criticism? A major part of Willie Mays' career and personality was formed by the racial context of the America in which he lived and played, and how he reacted to that context. It's an important part of his story.
My favorite part of the book is the description of the relationship between Mays and manager Leo Durocher, developed beautifully by the author. We learn that the affection was mutual and was most definitely real.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is the greatest sports book I have ever read. Willie Mays was the greatest ball player. I am so glad that I read itPublished 18 days ago by Mom
I grew up in West Virginia in the '50s listening to Reds baseball on the radio, and every year or two, got to see a couple of games in Cincinnati's Crosley Field. Read morePublished 29 days ago by Jim Brown
Historically correct and easy to read. Shows the human side as well. Brings back memories from the career of probably one of the top 5 ballplayers of all time.Published 3 months ago by Greg
A wondrous look at "Wondrous Willie" ! A few errors in reporting past seasons, but overall this is a fine read!Published 4 months ago by voracious reader
This is the definitive bio on perhaps the greatest all around ballplayer ever (As a huge Henry Aaron fan it pains me to say that but I must). Read morePublished 4 months ago by William J. Harper
This book tells the story of Willie from youth to current times and didn't leave out a thing. Hirsch is very about his relationships with those in and out of baseball and his love... Read morePublished 8 months ago by Ken Turner