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by Harold Friend
Willie Mays returned to New York in May 1972, when the San Francisco Giants traded him to the New York Mets for pitcher Charlie Williams. Willie Mays was 41 years old and coming off a 1971 season in which he had batted .271, with 18 home runs, 61 RBIs, 23 steals, and a Mickey Mantle-like 112 walks with 123 strikeouts. In only 49 at bats with the Giants in 1972, Willie was hitting an anemic .184 and had not yet hit his first home run.
Willie Mays Knew He Could Help the Mets
Willie Mays was being paid $165,000 a season, which was a big salary in 1972. The Mets agreed to make Willie a coach at a salary of $75,000 for at least three seasons when he retired. Willie was convinced that he could help the Mets, who had been World Champions in 1969, but who had struggled the next two seasons.
New York Missed Willie, and Willie Missed New York
When the Giants abandoned New York after the 1957 season, Willie was 26 years old and coming off a season in which he had the triple double. He hit 26 doubles, led the league with 20 triples, and hit 35 home runs. He also stole 38 bases. Willie missed New York as much as New York missed Willie. Forty-one year old Willie Mays was thrilled to return to his baseball home.
"It's a wonderful feeling, and I'm very thankful I can come back to New York. I don't think I'm just on display here. There's no doubt in my mind that I can help the Mets if I'm used in the right way."
Mets' Chairman of the Board, M. Donald Grant, concurred, and added, "I hope this move will be successful at the gate."
San Francisco owner Horace Stoneham, who sent Willie back to New York, attempted to justify his actions. "The Mets are the only club that could take care of him. Don and Mrs. Payson are as much in love with Willie as I am."
Willie Mays Became Available
Mets' owner Joan Payson had always been a Giants' fan, and for more than a decade, she had tried to get the Giants to trade Willie to the Mets. When Willie asked Stoneham for a ten-year retainer at $75,000 a season in any capacity with the Giants, the Giants owner told Willie the attendance-challenged Giants couldn't afford it. Stoneham started to explore the possibility of sending Willie away.
Willie was not pleased with the Giants. Manager Charlie Fox benched him in favor of younger players, and when Willie learned that he might be traded, he was upset that he had not been consulted.
On May 11, Horace Stoneham, and M. Donald Grant met at the Mets' headquarters at the Mayfair House. Willie, Mets' general manager Bob Scheffing, and manager Yogi Berra attended. Because it was Willie Mays who was being traded, Commissioner Bowie Kuhn was also present. The trade was completed.
Get Uniform Number 24
Yogi drove to Shea Stadium, went into the Mets' clubhouse, where the players had learned about the trade from radio broadcasts, and addressed equipment manager Nick Torman. "I guess you'd better get number 24 off Beauchamp." Utility outfielder- first baseman Jim Beauchamp was given number 5.
Willie Mays' Mets Debut
Willie Mays made his Mets' debut against the Giants as the first baseman, batting leadoff. Ray Sadecki held the Giants scoreless in the first. Mays led off with a walk off Sudden Sam McDowell, Bud Harrelson walked, Tommy Agee walked, and Rusty Staub hit a grand slam home run.
The Giants managed to tie the game with a four run fifth inning. Don Carrithers replaced McDowell to face Willie leading off the Mets' fifth. The count went full. The Giants' 6'2" right hander went into the windup and delivered a fast ball. Willie Mays, as he had done 646 times before, sent the ball over the fence. The Mets won, 5-4.
Willie Mays always had a flair for the dramatic. "That was my first hit as a Met. And my first hit as a Giant was a home run too."
The Greatest of All Giants' Players
He was one of the greatest, most exciting players ever, and certainly the greatest player the New York or San Francisco Giant history. Willie loved to play the game, and never made things complicated. "When they throw the ball, I hit it," he said. "When they hit the ball, I catch it."
By JOSEPH DURSO. (1972, May 12). Mays Back in Town and Mets Have Him :MAYS BACK HERE, IN A MET UNIFORM. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 33. Retrieved May 21, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 79468382).
BY JOSEPH DURSO. (1972, May 15). Mets Win on Mays's Homer, 5-4 :Willie, in Debut, Beats Giants -- Staub 'Slams' Mays Homers in Debut As Mets Defeat Giants. New York Times (1857-Current file),p. 47. Retrieved May 21, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 83446783).