Life Stories And Lessons From The Say Hey Kid, by Willie Mays And John Shea
One of the counterarguments to the past being better than the present, which is true in many respects, is the stupidity of nicknames like the “Say Hey Kid” for Willie Mays, one of the greatest baseball players of all time. This book is a somewhat strange book, being fairly disjoined combinations of quotes from Willie Mays about a wide variety of subjects with additional explanation from the co-author. Sometimes this works well, such as when the book talks about the career of Mays, his rise up from a life of poverty in the South through his baseball skills which allowed him to enter the Negro leagues as a teenager and participate in the last Negro League World Series as a young man. The most compelling part of this book is the baseball, and as someone who knows of him as a great player rather than having known of his career in detail, there was a lot about the man and his career that I learned. That is not say that I thought this was a perfect book by any means, but at the same time this was certainly a very informative book about the man and his continued influence, both for good and for ill, on the game of baseball to this day.
This book is a bit more than 300 pages long and is divided into two dozen chapters with rather scattered contents. The book begins with a foreword by Bob Costas and chapters that discuss how Mays set an example with his play (1), and discussion of the baseball career of Mays’ father (2). This is followed by chapters on Mays’ time with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues (3) and his goal of breaking down barriers (4). Later chapters talk about honoring mentors (5) and peers (8), Mays’ elegant style (6), his famous catch (7), the handicap of Mays’ home parks (9) on home run totals, and the story of a four homer day where Mays suffered from food poisoning (10). Other chapters discuss baseball as a game of inches (11), a lengthy sixteen inning game (12), Mays’ all star pride (13), a supposed rivalry (14), Mays’ late career return to New York (15), Mays’ relationship with Hank Aaron (16), Mays’ anti-racism (17), and later chapters that deal lamentably with political matters (18), versatility (19), the mental game (20), Mays’ life beyond baseball (21), Barry Bonds (22), San Francisco’s success in the 2010’s (23), and Mays’ relationship with fans (24), after which the book ends with acknowledgements and an index.
It is worthwhile, given that there is so much good that can be said about Mays as a player and as a positive example in how to play the game with creativity and flair, that this book definitely reveals some less than praiseworthy aspects of Mays’ life and influence on baseball. For example, the book is rather scarce on details about what it is that led to Mays’ divorce from his first wife in the 1950’s, except to note that it caused Mays a lot of stress (obviously). Given that a large part of Mays’ reputation is built on his clean image, there is obviously more than meets the eye here, especially given Mays’ own broken family background with his parents never having been together. Then there are contradictions related to Mays’ work with casino companies relating to hypocrisy regarding gambling and its influence on baseball, the credit that Mays is given for player pensions when the book simultaneously argues that the job as a host for Bally’s was necessary because he wasn’t getting a pension, and also Mays’ supposed influence on Bonds given his involvement in the Balco steroid scandal. If Mays was so influetical, surely he could have done something more.