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Article:Willie Mays: The All-Stars' Choice

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by Harold Friend

Howard Jackson was an avid New York Giants fan. Willie Mays is his favorite player, and Howard is easily upset when it is claimed that Mickey Mantle was better than Willie. Howard points out that Willie played in 24 consecutive all-star games and that he fared much better than Mickey Mantle had fared against the best players.

Willie Mays' Great All-Star Career

Willie Mays played in 24 consecutive All-Star games. He batted .307, hit three home runs, batted in nine runs, and stole six bases. Willie's on base average was .366, and his slugging average was .533. Willie leads in games played (24), plate appearances (82), at bats (75), runs (20), hits (23), total bases (40), triples (3), stolen bases (6), and singles (15).

Mickey Led Only in Strikeouts

Mickey Mantle appeared in 16 All-Star games. He is the leader in only in one category --- strikeouts. Mickey batted .233, hit two home runs, and batted in four runs. He struck out 17 times, compared to nine walks, had a .365 on base average, and slugged .372. Willie Mays' all-star game on base average is higher than Mickey Mantle's slugging average.

The 1963 All-Star Game

Willie Mays was the All-Star game MVP in 1963, and again in 1968. The 1963 game had some fascinating side lights.

Whitey Ford Was Not Selected by His Own Manager

Mickey Mantle was not on the American League team due to a broken foot. Whitey Ford was not even selected for the team. Whitey's own manager felt that lefties would not fare well against the predominately right handed power of the Senior Circuit, and Houk left Ford off the team. Juan Pizarro was the only lefty on the American League team.

Whitey's Note to Willie

The National League was using the same clubhouse in Cleveland's Municipal Stadium that the Yankees had used the last week end before the game. Ralph Houk had told Ford that he wasn't on the team, which didn't really upset Whitey much. Ford has a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor, which Willie discovered when the National Leaguers entered their clubhouse before the game.

Willie saw a note attached to a mirror from Whitey Ford addressed to him.

"Dear Willie Mays, Sorry I didn't make the team but Houk didn't want me to make you look bad. Whitey."

Willie "Owned" Whitey

When Willie Mays learned that he would not have the opportunity to face Ford, he was upset because he hit Whitey as if he owned him. Facing Ford in the opening game of the 1962 World Series, Willie had touched Ford for three hits. After the game, which the Yankees won, 6-2, Ford received a telegram signed by Willie Mays.

"Why don't you pitch every day?"

Ford was no dummy, and he knew that Willie would not do such a thing. Toots Shor, whose restaurant in New York was a meeting place for baseball players, had sent Ford the telegram.

All-Star MVP Willie Mays

The National League won the 1963 All-Star game, 5-3. Willie scored two runs, drove in two runs, and stole two bases. He made a typical great Mays catch in the eighth inning to rob the Yankees' Joe Pepitone of an extra base hit. As Willie limped back to the dugout, manager Alvin Dark commented that he wasn't worried that his center fielder might be injured.

"I knew he wasn't hurt when I saw him limp. When he's really hurt, he tries to hide it."

Against the Best

The All-Star game is an excellent test of a player's abilities. At least it used to be, when each league took pride in winning and the game was not considered merely an exhibition. The best players, or at least those having the best first half of the season, face each other. There are no soft touches.

Almost in Awe

The greatest all-star performer was Willie Mays. Other greats were almost in awe of him. It has been written that Willie "defined baseball greatness, a man equipped with unsurpassed natural skills and a pure zest for the game that made him one of the most dynamic players in history."

Ernie Banks, who is a Hall of Fame shortstop and won two MVPs while playing for the Cubs, knew Willie well.

"What made Willie different was his desire. A lot of folks have talent. It takes more. It takes focus and dedication. It takes heart. Willie had all that. He played the game as if he was the only one out there. His eyes would light up. His energy would kick in and he'd be ready to go. I had the privilege of watching and playing against a great talent. He played so hard, it inspired me to get out there every game. I couldn't wait to play the Giants and watch him."

"I think it was Ted Williams who said they invented the All-Star game for Willie Mays," Banks said. "He was right about that." Banks, an excellent hitter, once asked Willie what he thought about when he batted. Willie simply replied, "I don't think. I just see the ball and I hit it."

Willie Sometimes Did Think

There were times when Willie did think. His catch of a Vic Wertz drive saved the 1954 World Series for the Giants.

"I picked it up across the infield," he said. "I was like a wide receiver catching a pass. I did that in high school many times. I caught the ball over my left shoulder so I'd be able to throw. When you look at the film of the play, it seems like I'm throwing before I catch the ball. The big thing that I was thinking about was the two guys on base. When you think that way, some things happen good."

Willie Mays was easily the greatest player to ever wear a Giants' uniform. What would we say if he had played for the Yankees?

References:

Bock, Hal. "Willie Mays: the Ultimate All-Star." Associated Press. 6 July 2007.

All-Star Game Leaders

Willie Mays' All-Star Record

Mickey Mantle's All-Star Record

By ARTHUR DALEY. (1963, July 9). Sports of The Times :Waiting for the Stars Study in Contrast Willie's Favorite Signals Off! . New York Times (1857-Current file),34. Retrieved January 11, 2010, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2006). (Document ID: 82075527).


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