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Showing 1-10 of 74 reviews(Verified Purchases). See all 157 reviews
on August 17, 2017
One of my all-time favorite baseball players but I had never read a biography about him until now. Considering that I grew up in Brooklyn during the "golden era of NYC baseball" this volume was especially interesting even though I've always been a Yankees fan and idolized Mickey Mantle.

Like all of us, Willie the human being was far from perfect even though I still feel that he is the best all-around baseball player who I've ever seen. Every year one hears that some rookie is the "next Willie Mays". So far, I haven't seen anyone better as a "five tool" player.

Even if you never saw Willie play, if you're a baseball fan this is a must-read.
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on November 4, 2013
Utilizing over one hundred interviews, several thousand articles in magazines and newspapers, documentaries about Mays, and the cooperation of Mays himself, James Hirsch has produced the first major biography of the great Giant centerfielder. It is well-written, engaging, and entertaining. Beginning with his early years in Birmingham, Alabama, moving to Mays’ time in the black major leagues, focusing on his major league career in New York and San Francisco, and ending with his life after baseball, the author presents a portrait of a complex individual who needed praise and encouragement, not criticism, to perform at his best. Leo Durocher, his first manager, understood this, but not all of his successors did.
Hirsch thoroughly covers Mays’ career. There is “the catch” in the 1954 World Series, the daring base running (e.g., scoring from second twice on groundouts to first base and scoring from first on a bunt), the throws from the outfield that cut down runners at third base and home plate, the four homers in one game, the 1962 pennant race, his role as peacemaker in the Juan Marichal-John Roseboro incident, and his return to New York in a Mets uniform. We see Mays being mentored by Monte Irvin early in Willie’s career, only later to serve the same role to Jim Ray Hart and Bobby Bonds. Hirsch brings out Mays’ not wanting to face Ralph Branca as Willie waited in the on-deck circle with Bobby Thomson at the plate in the crucial third playoff game with the Dodgers in 1951. Mays would soon overcome this fear and relish the role of being at the plate when the game and/or the season were on the line.
Hirsch does not overlook the troubled times in the life of Mays. He discusses Jackie Robinson’s criticism of Mays for not using his high profile position to publicly speak out for civil rights. Whenever Mays experienced discrimination, he did not publicize the incident, not wanting to draw attention to himself. He let his play on the field win white fans over to his side. The author also deals with the years of struggle it took Mays to win over the fans in San Francisco. Nevertheless, some in the press continued to attack him as an overpaid, underproductive ball player, especially during crunch time. Mays had a rocky road with the reporters, not trusting them and refusing to reveal his inner self to them. He also suffered from a disastrous first marriage, faced bankruptcy in the early 1960s despite being the highest paid player in the game, and was ostracized from baseball from 1979 to 1984 when he became a greeter at an Atlantic City casino. Hirsch also does not neglect Mays’ relationship with his godson, Barry Bonds, and the issue of steroids. After his career ended, Mays even faced the innuendo that he had used amphetamines during his playing days.
Mays the human being is shown by his love for children and teenagers. He would constantly visit hospitals to see the sick, giving boys and girls autographed baseballs or pictures as well as words of encouragement. He would speak to youth groups, telling them not to smoke or drink (neither of which he did) and providing community groups with sports equipment. He even reached out to troubled youth, including a teenage O. J. Simpson, who was running with a gang, but he refused to testify as a character witness at Simpson’s murder trial. He would help friends without asking for anything in return.
The author concludes that “Ruth was baseball’s most dominant player; Mays was its greatest master.” (553) Not only could Mays run, field, throw, hit, and hit for power, he was one of the most intelligent men to play baseball. Before there were pitching and hitting charts, Mays studied pitchers to see what they would throw in certain situations and hitters in order to correctly position himself in the outfield. Some of his greatest catches were made because of where he positioned himself in the outfield prior to the pitch. His endurance is seen in an unequalled streak of 13 seasons of playing in 150 or more games. Among his records are for at-bats, hits, total bases, and runs scored in the All-Star game. Unfortunately, like many other superstars, he stayed in the game too long, and the last memory of this great defensive outfielder was his misjudging a fly ball and pleading on his knees of an umpire’s call at home plate in the second game of the 1973 World Series.
This is a must read for those interested in baseball biography and baseball in the 1950s and 1960s.
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on February 9, 2015
I am a HUGE Giants fan and Willie Mays is the eternal quintessential Giant. Being that I never got the chance to see Mays play, the author offers us some good insight in to life and times of being one of the world's best athletes. Truly, Mays is iconic and this book really takes you to that place in NYC during the Golden Age of baseball and then brings you back to NYC during the early-70's when Mays was the remnant of days gone by. However, Mays played a major chunk of his time in SF and he really did it ALL in stride.

I guess I wanted to know more about his life outside of baseball. He lived half of his life in baseball and this book is almost entirely spent on his days "within the lines." This man is an ICON and since he authorized the writing - perhaps the author was too scared to get in more depth in any controversies and/or tidbits of interest that would make you really understand this living legend. This book does offer some defects but none that make you takeaway anything more than this guys MAYS is a GIANT among legends.

The author of this book is accurate when saying that going to a bookstore and noticing all the books on baseballs legends that the shelves were missing one on Mays. This book needed to be done and I think it is a knowledgeable and forthright story of one of the best athletes ever to put on cleats.
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on June 18, 2016
This book really captured the essence of Willie as a man, and as a player. The writing was not particularly beautiful in the use of language or as a work of art. However, since what most of those who would be interested in reading this book would be looking for is insight into the man as a player and a person, the somewhat boring prose can be forgiven. The book also effectively placed Willie's work and life in the context of what was going on historically and socially, which placed the book at a higher level than a typical sports biography. I came away from it with a greater understanding not only of baseball history, but of the history of this country during Willie's era.
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on August 24, 2017
Enjoyed the book but thought it has more a civil rights book than a Willie Mays book.
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on February 9, 2011
"Willie Mays, The Life, The Legend" by James S. Hirsch is one of the best, most in-depth and enjoyable sports biographies I've ever read. (Other successful similar books, though imminently readable, were either not as well-researched and not as substantive, or not as objective.) This book is without question the definitive biography about Willie Mays.

The prodigious amount of little known information Mr. Hirsch was able to unearth and bring to light through meticulous research was not only in many instances surprising but really rather astounding. The veil is finally lifted about Willie's childhood and his unusual extended family situation while growing up in depression era Alabama. The book in fact is filled with priceless anecdotes and details from every period of Willie's life, including his life after baseball.

The author smoothly and seamlessly takes the reader through decades, generations and eras without missing a beat, displaying a "fly-on-the-wall" quality that makes the narrative even more interesting and enjoyable. I found it extraordinary that Mr. Hirsch, who was too young to have seen Mays play, seemed to have really understood the nuances of his research, as exhibited by the ease with which he so credibly and knowingly wrote about baseball and all the events and personalities he mentions in their historical context.

The fact that the author throughout the book did not shy from discussing Willie's eccentricities, perceived and otherwise, or his public and private failures-- in addition to his triumphs--as a person and as a player, makes the book in many ways a valuable resource.

Willie Mays was and is a complex and sensitive man and an extremely prideful person. But he did allow himself, before it was all done, to become the proverbial poster child for the great athlete who doesn't know when to quit. Unlike Joe DiMaggio, who gracefully retired when it was time, Willie was simply unable to fathom a life without baseball and moreover was overwhelmed by his own insecurity and fear of the unknown. The shame of it is that younger fans who saw him long after his once formidable skills had deserted him thought they were seeing Willie Mays when in fact what they were really witnessing was merely an apparition--the ghost of Willie Mays.

While reading "Willie Mays, The Life, The Legend" I rather curiously anticipated seeing just how the author James S. Hirsch would handle Mays' decline and ultimate abasement as a baseball player. In other words I wondered if he would ruin his credibility by not dealing forthrightly and honestly with this somewhat lugubrious part of Mays' long career. I need not have concerned myself. Here again, to my amazement, Mr. Hirsch made it look rather easy (and there's no way it could have been.) With compassionate objectivity he expertly painted a picture that was both honest and balanced, as exemplified by the often brilliantly descriptive way in which he documented Mays' sadly memorable struggles during the 1973 World Series, his final year in baseball.

Most knowledgeable baseball people who saw him play in his prime consider Willie Mays the greatest baseball player who ever lived. But throughout Mays' brilliant career one got the impression that he was a somewhat troubled man. "Willie Mays, The Life, The Legend" reveals a plethora of illuminating information hitherto unknown to the general public about this fiercely private, complex and enigmatic man. It is a cruelly ironic misconception that the talented prodigy in any field of endeavor has the easy road when in fact the exact opposite is often the case because of the burdensome level of overwhelming expectations.

"Willie Mays, The Life, The Legend" is a must-read if you are a fan of baseball or of Willie Mays, although the totality of this thoroughly engrossing life story has a universal appeal that transcends the game of baseball. The author of this magnificent book, James S. Hirsch, should be commended for what is in my opinion a masterful job of research and story-telling!

----Major A. Smith
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on October 31, 2014
This is a great book for anyone. Well written, full of personal observations and lots of history. If you have no interest in baseball it is a great history book with insight into what it was like to be young and famous and black in his time. You will finish with more respect for Willie than when you started.
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on July 27, 2013
There's no doubt that Willie is one of the greatest all-around players in baseball history. He was a tremendous player and set dozens of records that still stand. However, in many of these sports stories, all the player has is 'the game' and hasn't prepared for the life after the sport. I know the managers and friends are all making money from the player, but along the line, you would think that a counselor or colleague would take the player aside and ask, "What's your plans after your knees give out? Or your eyes and hearing?" The book is long and somewhat tiresome after the author describes in great detail certain games, and who was doing what, or thinking what. I look forward to the abbreviated edition in large print, and more photos.
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on September 22, 2016
A well written book of one of, if not the best player, baseball's greatest player. The book not only chronicles Willie's life but also the impact he had in changing American's attitude on race. Readers will gain an insight into Willie's great talent and the effects of a segregated society on him and other players of color. I highly recommend this boob.
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on March 20, 2012
My grandfather couldn't swing Opening Day tickets at Seals Stadium in 1958 when the Giants began their first season in San Francisco, but he did manged to get us into the make-shift bleachers in the outfield the next day. From our coveted perch my baby brother and I had a great look at one of the most spectacular sights ever seen on a major league diamond. The great Willie Mays gliding to a ball for one of his signature basket catches. His speed and instincts were electrifying. But as James S. Hirsch briliantly demonstrates, there was much more to Mr. Mays than what happened on the field. Willie Mays, The Life , The Legend is by far the best book I've ever read on that period of Bay Area baseball. It paints a picture of the complete scene in San Francisco. I was there, and can verify the accuracy of this historical work. A must read for baseball fans.Forgotten Strokes
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