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Murph: 24 reasons why Willie Mays, the birthday boy, rules


  1. Nobody looked better in the road ‘San Francisco’ jersey than Willie Mays. Period. End of story. 
  2. If Peter Magowan didn’t love Willie Mays so much, decent chance we never get the ballpark in China Basin.
  3. He’s the oldest living Hall of Famer, and one of our last links to the golden age of baseball.
  4. He hit 660 career home runs, playing 14 1/2 seasons at home run-averse Candlestick Park.
  5. He hit 660 career home runs, and missed almost all of 1952 (played 34 games) and did miss all of 1953 to serve in the U.S. Army.
  6. Considering he hit 41 home runs in 1954 at age 23, it is not unreasonable to think he would have hit 30 in 1952 and 1953, and would have passed Babe Ruth’s all time mark before Henry Aaron.
  7. As Tom Verducci told us this morning, he played in at least 150 games, 13 consecutive seasons. No other player — not Cal Ripken, not Lou Gehrig — has done that.
  8. In 1955, when he led the NL with 51 home runs, he also led the NL with 13 triples.
  9. “The Catch” in the 1954 World Series is the most famous catch in baseball history.
  10. Per John Shea’s excellent, must-read book “24”, many teammates say “The Catch” in the 1954 World Series was not the best catch Mays ever made, and in fact cite a few others.
  11. The “Say Hey Kid” may not be the best nickname in the history of baseball — “Babe”, or “The Bambino” or “The Meal Ticket” or “Big Train” or “The Splendid Splinter” are all candidates — but it’s at least top 10.
  12. From 1956-59, Mays led the NL in steals each year.
  13. In the entire history of Candlestick Park, Mays is the only Giant to top 50 home runs in a season, when he hit 52.
  14. Lon Simmons once told me Mays, the baserunning savant, scored from first base on a single — twice.
  15. In my interview with him for the Giants 50-year history in 2007, Mays told me that in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series, when he ripped a 9th-inning double with Matty Alou at first, and Alou was held at third: “I would have tried to score. You play to win.”
  16. So many speak of the aging Mays not looking like himself as a New York Met in the 1973 World Series, but that “aging” Mays also got the tie-breaking, game-winning RBI single off Rollie Fingers in the 12th inning of the Mets’ Game 2 win.
  17. Barry Bonds refers to Mays as his “godfather” — and last I checked, that makes Mays an even more prolific Godfather than Don Coreleone, who did not hit 660 home runs.
  18. He is one of the last two living veterans of the Negro Leagues who played as far back as 1948 who also played Major League Baseball, along with his friend and teammate, 96-year-old Bill Greason.
  19. When he was 16 years old, Mays would leave high school to play for the Birmingham Black Barons — and they won the Negro League Championship.
  20. He faced Satchel Paige when he was 16, and hit a double off of him.
  21. The next time he faced Paige, Mays told me and Negro League Baseball Museum president  Bob Kendrick: “He threw a fastball by me, strike 1. Fastball by me, strike two. Fastball by me, strike 3. Then he said, ‘Go sit down, little boy.’”
  22. Mays always liked kids more than adults, which makes him a good judge of character, and has spent his life doing anything he can to help kids — from playing stick ball in Harlem and buying kids ice cream, to lending his name to the Giants Community Fund Mays Scholars Program, announced today, where five African-American high school kids from San Francisco will get a $20,000 college scholarship and all-encompassing tutoring and college prep.
  23. He’s No. 1 on the short list of the greatest living Americans — alongside Dolly Parton, Bill Russell, Clint Eastwood and Bruce Springsteen.
  24. He’s ours. He’s the greatest Giant of them all. Happy birthday, Willie.
 

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