Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid, turns 70
By Chris Shuttlesworth
On May 6, the greatest player ever to wear a Giants uniform -- and perhaps
the greatest all-around player ever to play in the Major Leagues -- turns
70. But to countless fans of the orange and black, Willie Mays will always
be a 20-year-old rookie recording his first career hit with a monstrous
homer off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn; the flashy youngster that
won the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year Award.
Willie Mays is forever 29, clubbing four home runs in a single game at Milwaukee's County Stadium. He's 31, leading the league with 49 homers and driving in a personal-best 141 runs.
It's easy to picture the Say Hey Kid as a 32-year-old, being named to one of his 20 All-Star Games and earning the MVP Award of the Midsummer Classic. He's 34, robbing the great Ted Williams of an All-Star Game homer.
Fans can envision the 35-year-old Mays capturing his second NL MVP honor with an amazing 52 homers. Here's the 37-year-old winning his 12th straight Gold Glove and another All-Star MVP nod.
Mays isn't 70, he's 39 and cracking his 3,000th career hit in front of the Candlestick Park crowd. The hearts of those same fans break as they see the 41-year-old being traded to the Mets or the 42-year-old hanging up his spikes for good.
Mays was standing on a stage with a look of amazement belying his 66 years when President and Managing General Partner Peter Magowan announced in 1997 that the address of Pacific Bell Park would be Willie Mays Plaza. And just short of his 69th birthday, he was "scared" by the lifelike detail of the statue erected in his honor in the plaza named for him, with his No. 24 looking down from the clock tower above Willie Mays Gate.
One only has to look at that statue to realize that Willie Mays might be 70, but that he is also sealed in our minds at whatever age, and with whatever moment we admire the most from the life of this extraordinary and supremely special ballplayer.
Even those who weren't fortunate enough to witness his feats in person have seen and heard enough about his exploits to understand that Mays is an unforgettable fixture in baseball history.
And for those who witnessed first-hand the exhilarating play of Willie Mays, he will always be frozen in time, forever young and always a superstar. Happy birthday, Willie.
Chris Shuttlesworth is the site editor of sfgiants.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.