Alex Rodriguez hit his 648th career home run today putting his just 12 behind Giants legend Willie Mays.
I am not going to mention that Willie would of hit about a thousand home runs if he juiced. In fact, the Say Hey Kid, played in an era when weight lighting was forbidden. Baseball at the time thought bigger muscles ruined swings. Can you imagine if Willie would of lifted weights and juiced?
He might have hit two or three thousand home runs.
Willie Mays was not a typical slugger. He stood 5 foot ten or eleven and weighed 170 pounds in his prime. His home runs were line drives that left the playing field. His team mate, Willie McCovey. Was the most feared slugger on the San Francisco Giants but he hit 148 less round trippers than Mays. McCovey hit them farther but far less often.
And this is why Willie Mays is a mystery to me.
Fans today talk about Ruth, Aaron and Cobb. They might debate modern players like A-Rod and Barry Bonds, compared to the old timers. No one seems to discuss Mays.
I was a small boy in the sixties. I remember when Willie played. No one then discussed whether Willie Mays was the greatest player of the era. It was accepted fact.
Mays played 22 years. He hit for a lifetime average of .302. As I mentioned, he hot 660 home runs. His lifetime slugging percentage was .557. He stole 338 bases. His lifetime OPS, a stat modern statisticians love was .941.
All astonishing numbers. but not his best talent. For all his prowess as a hitter and base runner it paled to his ability to play centerfield.
This is what set him apart. An example, Mays won 12 Gold Gloves. The Gold Glove awards weren’t invented until Willie had played six years! He made a catch in centerfield during the 1954 World Series that was so great it is simply referred to as “The Catch.” Years later Alvin Dark, long time player and manager said “I’ve seen him make 20 catches better than that one.”
That’s how good he was.
Branch Rickey, a name familiar if you have seen the movie 42, was quoted as saying “That was the finest catch I have ever seen and the finest catch I ever hope to see.” He said it in Rickey’s 48th year of baseball, to Willie Mays after he chased a long drive to dead center in Forbes Field, reached the warning track, saw the ball hook right at the last instant, and, with no time to reach across his body, made the catch bare-handed.
I could go on and on but I will stop.
To be clear, Willie Mays wasn’t my favorite player as a kid but it does make me laugh when people talk about Rodriguez in the same story as Mays.
One is accused of embarrassing baseball and one is a living legend.
I don’t care if A-Rod hits a million home runs, he will never compare to Willie Mays.
Like Maury Allen, famed sports writer once said, “There is 499 baseball players and then there is Willie Mays.”