I recently finished reading “Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend” which was published earlier this year. It was a fun read because Mays is my childhood hero and because I love baseball, period.  It was also a walk down memory lane, of sorts, for me. Having been first introduced to baseball when I was about 6 years old, I have my first memories of seriously watching it on TV when I was about 8. Our family lived both in the San Francisco Bay area and in the Los Angeles area during my childhood years so as it turned out we were divided between Dodger fans and Giant fans. My dad and I loved the Giants. My two bothers were loyal to the Dodger blue.

I love Willie Mays because he could do it all. He could hit for average, hit for power, run like the wind, catch any ball hit in the approximate direction of center field, throw out runners with his cannon arm, steal bases—you name it, Mays did it. The man was an inspiration and a catalyst for his team. Mays provided leadership by example–and he did it with a servant’s heart.

The guy was humble and really liked hanging out with kids. During the days he played in New York,  his apartment was located near Harlem, and on homestands, before going to the stadium, he would spend time on the street with the kids in the neighborhood playing stickball.   On one or two occasions he was so wrapped up in this activity that he lost his sense of time and showed up late for the game. What I wouldn’t give to have been one of those kids hanging out with the great Mays on my street!

I learned a lot about my childhood hero from reading this book. It provided a boatload of insight about what made him tick and just how powerful an impact he had. When I put the book down I realized Willie Mays was even better than I thought he was.  I have always felt he was the best all around baseball player in history—but was never totally sure. Now I am. No one could do it all the way the Willie Mays did. Without steroids. Without the modern travel comforts.

Willie Mays played his heart out every day. Until I read this book I wasn’t aware of  just how much, even at a young age, he was overcome by exhaustion because of the level of intensity and effort he put into each game. To me, this is one of the things that set him apart. He played with a flare and intensity that was rare in baseball.

In life, I still want to be like Willie Mays.

The Say Hey Willie song:

Video clip of “The Catch” made by Mays in the 1954 World series: