They had littleboys' names—Mickey and Willie—but they were giants in their time, superstarsbefore that word got contaminated by overuse. Mantle and Mays—names ingrainedtogether in the sporting consciousness. Their lives and their careers arecuriously parallel. They were born the same year, 1931. They arrived in the bigleagues the same year, 1951, and in the same city, New York. They played thesame position, centerfield. Both hit .300 or better 10 times and both hit morethan 50 homers twice. And though their entire careers were spent in separateleagues, they did play against each other, in the 1951 and 1962 World Series.They are both in baseball's Hall of Fame. And because they both took jobs withAtlantic City casinos as "ambassadors of goodwill," they were bothprohibited from holding any salaried job in the game they so magnificentlygraced.
This is an article from the March 25, 1985 issue
Prohibited, thatis, until Monday afternoon when commissioner Peter Ueberroth welcomed backbaseball's two prodigal sons with open arms. "They are two of the mostbeloved and admired athletes in the country today," says Ueberroth,"and they belong in baseball."
Mays had been thefirst to go. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn turned him out in 1979 when he went towork for Bally's Park Place Casino Hotel. Mays said he was "shocked."In 1983, when Del Webb's Claridge Casino Hotel decided it would be goodbusiness to have an immortal of its own on the payroll, it hired Mantle. Kuhnpromptly banished him, too. "After what happened to Willie," Mantlesaid, he expected it. Neither complained publicly of his treatment, though bothare delighted to be reinstated. Kuhn's reasoning in both instances had beenthat the two old ballplayers might well be exposed to unsavory elements. Longafter the 1919 Black Sox threw the World Series, Kuhn was terrified of anythingthat smacked too obviously of gambling. He was in no way dissuaded from hiscourse by the knowledge that both Mantle and Mays hold jobs that get them nocloser to gambling than the golf course and the banquet hall. In fact, Mays'slicense with the authorities does not permit him to so much as pull the arm ofa slot machine. Most anyone else, Kuhn included, can lose his shirt in thecasinos.
"Hell,"says Mays, "you can meet gamblers regardless of where you are."
"People havethis picture of me standing outside the casino yelling, 'Come on in andgamble,' " says Mantle. "But in my job I do things for the March ofDimes and the Special Olympics. You know, what I do is not really bad."
Ueberrothessentially agreed. "I'm not going to second-guess somebody else's decisionmade under different circumstances," he said, before explaining what thenew circumstances are. Baseball personnel will now be allowed to do publicrelations and charity work for a casino but not help advertise for clientele."A lot of people will misinterpret my position as being soft ongambling," says Ueberroth, noting the fine distinction. "My stance isas strong as any commissioner's going back to Judge Landis. But there's a needfor new rules."
Concerning Mantleand Mays, Ueberroth said he had "checked into their activities and foundthem exemplary. This was not a borderline decision. It was very clear. It wasin the best interest of baseball that two of its greatest stars bereinstated."
Mantle and Maysare free to rejoin the game immediately. Both would like to be spring traininginstructors with the teams of their youth. Of course, they agree that it'sgreat to be back. "Nobody likes to be banned," Mantle says.
Even without thestigma of banishment, Mantle and Mays have had to endure what may seem to therest of us the peculiar limbo life of the retired superstar. When we finallyleave our jobs in that jungle out there, we are either at or approaching ourdotage, but the athlete finishes in the prime of his life. In the years thatfollow he is forever reminded of the evanescence of all things. Coping withreminders of his increasingly distant past demands a gift not found on theplaying field. What do you do with a boy's name when the boy's game isover?
Mickey Mantlecinches up his black-and-white striped necktie—"I hate wearingties"—and labors up the stairs of the Squires Pub in West Long Branch,N.J., where he will be the star speaker at the 13th Annual Vince LombardiAwards Dinner, which is sponsored by the Monmouth County Rotary Clubs. This isa fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society, a cause Mantle has an excellentreason to espouse. There is some leftover snow covering the ground, and a chillin the evening air, but he wears no topcoat over his dark gray businesssuit.
At 53 he lookstrim enough, his weight close to the 200 pounds or so he carried as a player.His hair has grown darker than it was in his brilliant blond youth and—oh, thepassage of time—it is speckled with gray.
He is accompaniedthis night by his Atlantic City boss, Bill Dougall, president and generalmanager of the Claridge, and by Charlie Hanlon, the hotel's legal counsel.They're old golfing buddies. Once considered baseball's fastest runner, Mantlelimps perceptibly when he walks now, the legacy of four operations he has hadon his fragile right knee. In the limo on the drive north from Atlantic City upthe Jersey shore, he dozes miserably with the injured leg extended.
At the entranceto the banquet hall, Mantle straightens himself and walks as briskly as he can,putting his best foot forward, as it were. The Rotarians and their guests gapeat him with undisguised curiosity, even awe, and after some preliminarygreetings and a brief television interview, they line up the length of thecapacious lobby to get his autograph. The Claridge has supplied Mantle withspecially prepared baseball cards that have his picture on the front and hisstats on the back. He stacks the cards, which identify him as the Claridge's"Director of Sports Promotions," neatly on the table in front of him.But many of the autograph-seekers bring their own souvenirs—balls, programs,photos, old newspapers and magazines—for him to sign. Mothers carry cameras sothey may have their pictures taken with the Great Man himself. Sitting therebefore his idolaters is a chore for Mantle, who is easy and fun-loving withpals but still ill at ease in the merciless public eye. Yet he signs and poseswith remarkable patience and good humor. "Are you sure you know all thesepeople?" he inquires of a woman who hands him a list of names to address onhis cards. "You're not just standing there making up names?"
"For a17-year-old son, you say?" he asks another woman, who blushes before him."You must've been a child bride."
"Mickeydoesn't mind doing this if it's organized," says Hanlon, an affable youngman who is regulating the autograph session and seeing to Mantle's needs, oneof which is a vodka and tonic. "But he hates to get trapped standing up atsome cocktail party." "We respect him so much," says Dougall,standing behind Mantle, "that we'd never use him in a way that would beembarrassing or uncomfortable to him. He's a national figure."
When he wasplaying for the Yankees, Mantle was not always so generous with his time. Byhis own admission, he ducked the fans as readily and as often as he held thepress at bay. He may have appeared a giant in print to the reader, but he wasseen as something less than that by many of the writers he frustrated in histime. Age and retirement have mellowed him. "It's really flattering thatpeople even care enough to see you," he had said at breakfast that morning,a time when he was interrupted at regular intervals by well-wishers andautograph hounds. "Of course it can get hectic. There's always some guy whocomes up with six baseballs and wants you to write a personal letter on everyone of them. But I'm a lot better than I ever was. When I was playing, if I gotcornered, I'd just leave. Now I stick it out. I'm older. I think about otherpeople's feelings more than I used to."
Watching Mantledutifully doing his job this night, Hanlon says, "Mickey probably has morehumility than anyone else in his position."
The banquet seemsinterminable. Mantle is preceded on the rostrum by five New York areaprofessional football players, one of whom, Joe Fields of the New York Jets,transforms himself into the classic stand-up comic who doesn't know when to getoff. Fields lapses into blue material that mortifies the more squeamish amonghis hosts but galvanizes the predominantly male audience into hysterics.Mantle, sitting to the left of the speaker, chuckles delightedly throughout thehalf-hour routine. The last football speaker is John Tuggle, the former Giantsrunning back, who is himself "fighting cancer." Looking healthy andmuscular, Tuggle extends his arms to the audience and shouts out, "I'm hereto show you the results of my fight. I'm doing real well. God bless youall."
Mantle is thelast speaker. He is smiling shyly as he approaches the microphone, looking forall the world like an aging Huckleberry Finn or, with hair falling loosely overhis forehead, like his fellow Oklahoman, Will Rogers. He looks down the tableat Fields. "I wouldn't have missed this for anything," he drawls. Hehas a country style and superb timing. He introduces Dougall and Hanlon,ragging them both with short anecdotes, making certain to mention the Claridge.He tells an apocryphal but amusing story about Billy Martin, his close friendfrom their first days together on the Yankees. And he turns serious. "Ifever there's anything I can do to help fight cancer, I'll do it," he says."It's been with me all my life. My grandfather, my father and my two unclesall died of Hodgkin's disease, which is a form of cancer. None of them made 45.It's missed me...so far...but now my third-oldest boy, Billy, has it." Thecrowd moans, Mantle raises his hand to quiet them; he's not after theirsympathy. "Oh, he's doing just fine now. Really. I just want you to knowthat the Claridge is happy to have something to do with this Vince Lombardiparty. I feel very fortunate to be here. If ever there is anything else we cando, please let us know. Thank you."
"That was agood event, Charlie," Mantle tells Hanlon on the limo ride back to theClaridge. "I'll do one like that anytime. And that guy Fields wasg-o-o-o-o-d. Man, before he got up, I looked down at him and I thought he mustbe drunk the way he's carrying on, but he was real good up there."
Dougall, agenial, craggy-faced man, entertains the party on the way home with stories ofhis days as a casino operator in Las Vegas and as a pilot in both World War IIand Korea. "Allie Reynolds's brother Jim was one of the best damn fighterpilots I ever saw," he says, warming to the subject. "And tough. Man,he was tough."
"He was meantough," agrees Mantle, who's getting drowsy.
"And TedWilliams," says Dougall. "A fine pilot. One of the best. Why, one timein Korea, he got hit. Plane bounced right off a mountain, but he managed tobring her in with a crash landing. Great piece of flying."
Mantle's head isresting back against the seat. Mention of Williams's name seems to revivehim.
"Greatesthitter I ever saw," he says, ignoring the Splendid Splinter's wartimeheroics. "I didn't see 'em all, course, but to me he was the best."
"And not justa singles hitter," says Dougall, "like some of these guys with the highaverages now. He hit the long ball, Mick. Like you."
"Likeme?" Mantle says quietly in the darkness of the speeding car, his broadpale face illuminated by approaching headlights. "Why, he wasn't like me atall. He was a real hitter. I mean, he'd take that short swing of his and hiteverything. Yeah, he hit some so hard they went over the fence. But he was areal hitter. Me, I just got up there and swung for the roof ever' time andwaited to see what would happen. No, not like me. He wasn't like me."
The others watchsilently as he falls fast asleep.
Willie Mays,braced against the brisk Alabama winter in a sheepskin jacket, hurries into theRailroad Furniture, Inc. store in Birmingham, eyes darting, ever alert.Shopping for lamps and end tables, he recalls the base running wonder of yearsago making his move, cap flying, from first to third. Like Mantle, he is 53 andgray at the temples. His once rock-hard body is thicker now—about 208 pounds tohis playing weight of 186—but his energy level is as high, and he still conveysthe notion that he is fresh out of time. He hails store manager Ken Tatum andgets immediately to the business of buying "stuff" at bargain pricesfor the new apartment he has bought for himself in New York City. Mays is a manof many residences. He keeps condos or apartments in New York, Birmingham,Tampa and Reno. But home for him, as it has been since 1969, is his fine housein the ritzy San Francisco suburb of Atherton. The other domiciles, he says,will someday be "liquidated."
But his roots arein Alabama. He was born in Westfield, a steel-mill town 13 miles outsideBirmingham that, to Mays's astonishment, no longer exists. "I drove bythere on the freeway, and, man, it just wasn't there. Gone completely. Gobbledup. I guess the mills went bad." He was born in West-field, but raised innearby Fairfield, where he became a legendary star on the playgrounds and atFairfield Industrial High School. This trip in February is a homecoming. He'sin Alabama to meet with Mayor Richard Arrington of Birmingham, the first blackman to hold that office, and with Governor George Wallace in the hope ofgetting involved in Alabama youth projects. "When I came in, the Governorsaid, 'O.K., everybody out. I wanna talk to this man,' " says Mays, withoutapparent recognition of the irony of a once fiercely segregationist governorclearing out his office to entertain a black man.
RailroadFurniture is a cavernous store, a warehouse of a store, the largest furnitureoutlet in Birmingham, manager Tatum boasts, "under one roof." Its wallsare festooned with butcher paper promotional signs—NOBODY UNDERSALES US, WESAVE U MONEY—and there is a forest of furniture on its floors. Mays expertlypicks his way through the thickets of couches, beds, bureaus and lamps,ordering swiftly, decisively, obviously having the time of his life. "Ilove to shop," he says. "I love to bargain. And the stuff I buy is goodstuff." He delights in comparing Railroad's cut-rate prices with those ofthe fancier furniture marts in San Francisco and New York. "All this isgoing to my New York place," he says. "I couldn't shop there even if Iwanted to. People'd bug me too much. My place here in Birmingham has so muchstuff in it, I might ship some to New York, too. I do all the apartmentsmyself. Our home in California, my wife, Mae, takes care of. If this thing withthe governor works out, I might spend three days a month here, so I need aplace. I do my own schedule. I visualize a month in my mind and just work itout."
Mays is a busyman. Besides his real-estate investing and his work with Bally's in AtlanticCity, he does promotional work for a New York securities firm and a foodcompany in Boston. The Bally's job sometimes occupies him as many as 10 days amonth. "I go where they send me," he says. "I do car shows,banquets, golf tournaments, dinner parties, anything. I try to diversifymyself. Between here, New York and where I live, I'm travelin' a lot. I'd liketo get involved with Alabama, though. This area is so open. Bear Bryant was theking here for so long. Now there's nobody left to carry on the tradition."The banishment from baseball scarcely left Mays on his uppers. His multifariousenterprises net him an annual income of between $300,000 and $400,000 (morethan $100,000 from Bally's alone), a handsome improvement over his peakbaseball salary of $189,000. "My problem is not making money," he says,"it's saving it. If I don't put it to use in, like, real estate andinvestments, I'll just spend it."
Tatum is at hiscalculator, totting up Mays's purchases for the day. There is an easycamaraderie between the white Southern businessman and the black superstar."You're the toughest customer I've got, Willie," Tatum says, noting thenumber of bargains Mays has wheedled out of him. "I can't make any moneyoff you." This lament elicits shrieks of laughter. "Sheet, man,"says Mays. "Now I gotta go out and make a living just to pay for all thisjunk."
The Chrysler NewYorker he keeps in Birmingham has a SAY HEY license plate. All "eight ornine" of Mays's cars around the country have the same plate. The "fouror five" he keeps at home in the Bay Area are SAY HEY and then SAY HEY Ithrough IV. By the same token, all eight of his phone numbers end with 24, hisold uniform number. For all the elusiveness he is capable of in his personalrelations, Mays is not one to conceal his identity. He is wheeling confusedlythrough the streets of Birmingham now, at a loss to discover what's happened tothe town he left more than 30 years ago. "Damn," he mutters, missing aturn onto a freeway, "this place has changed. It's got bigger and thereseem to be a lot more young people here, too. With the young people in theSouth it's more football and basketball now. They know my name, but it's notlike New York or San Francisco. I still can't go to a restaurant in those townswithout being stopped. I handle all that better now. When I was playing, I hadthe attitude that people acted like they owned you, and I didn't like it."He laughs. "You know those American Express commercials—'Do you knowme?...' Well, I called the American Express guy to see about getting one, andhe said, 'We can't use you, Willie, 'cause everybody knows you.' I think thereare very few of us in that category now—Joe [DiMaggio] for sure and Ali andO.J., probably Namath, and, yeah, Liz and Paul Newman. And Mickey andme."
He is relieved tofind himself in a familiar neighborhood. Some landmarks have survived theyears, although not well. "This used to be a better part of town," hesays of a street cheapened by a string of fast-food emporiums. "People askme what it must've been like to come home here in '51 as a kid after being sucha hero in New York. Well, sheet, I was already a hometown hero, the bestathlete in every sport the one year I played in high school. The schoolsweren't integrated then, but as kids, 'bout 12, 13, 14 year old, blacks andwhites played together on the streets. Until the cops chased us away. I startedplaying professional ball when I was 'bout 14—with the Chattanooga BlackLookouts. I was with the Birmingham Black Barons when I was 16, 17 year old. Myfather got me on the team. He played semipro—leftfielder and leadoff hitter—andhe knew Piper Davis on the Barons. I was the youngest guy on the team, but theolder guys took care of me. Piper and Artie Wilson were my teachers. Funny, Itook Artie's place on the Giants. I hit .347 for the Barons in '48. I wasmakin' $600 a month, good money in those days. Took a cut when I signed withthe Giants. Pro'lly only made 'bout $200 a month that first year in the minorleagues. I liked to starve.
"Playing atTrenton was like playing in the Little League to me after the Negro League.Triple A was a little better [he was hitting .477 at Minneapolis of theAmerican Association in late May of 1951 when the Giants called him up]. Peoplealways said how young and scared I was when I first got to New York. But myfather made good money back then working as a porter on the railroad. Sheet, ifyou were black you either worked in the mills or on the railroad or you didn'twork. But I never had it bad. My father bought us a nice house in Fairfield.Later on, when we moved to San Francisco, I bought him a condo in Oakland, andhe's still there. I was the oldest of 12, but we did all right. The brightlights never bothered me. The Barons drew crowds of 'bout 18,000, 19,000 then.I had no problems with big crowds. I wasn't that scared."
In repose, Mays'sface seems fixed in a quizzical frown. It is as if he were musing perpetuallyon life's inequities. When he laughs, his somber features undergo anastonishing metamorphosis. Suddenly, he seems the happiest of men. The laughtercomes as such a startling and gratifying intrusion on the general sobriety thatit becomes infectious. He is laughing now, driving haphazardly on and off thelabyrinthine Birmingham freeway system. Memories have cheered him. "Weplayed at old Rickwood Field," he says. "The ball park's still here.They've kept it up. It's almost historical. I know it's right around heresomewhere." He drives for 20 minutes over interstate highways 59 and 20,mumbling now about how the city has changed so much he can't find anythinganymore, not even this seminal ball park. Finally, he gives up.
"We'll golook for it tomorrow," he says grumpily.
Tomorrow, heforgets all about it.
Mickey Mantle Jr.is driving visitors to the Mantle family home in the Preston Hollow section ofDallas. He is, at 31, the eldest of the four Mantle sons, and he works for hisfather, arranging his business appointments and planning the often complextravel schedule. Mickey Jr. is about his father's size, slightly taller perhapsbut not quite so thick through the shoulders and chest. He was an athlete, butit is not a subject he freely discusses with strangers. "I played a year ofminor league ball," he says, anxious to change the subject. "But Ididn't need to put up with all that." "All that" was not explained,but it could easily refer to the bus travel, low salaries and bad ball parksthat are the given drawbacks of minor league baseball. It could also mean thatthere are easier ways of making a living than playing your father's game withyour father's name. "My dad helped me some, but you gotta remember hewasn't around all that much when I was growing up." He pulls up in front ofthe Mantles' fine ranch-style home in an elegant and peaceful neighborhood. Hishand is on the door when his father opens it.
The Mantles havelived in this four-bedroom house since 1957. "It's the best business deal Iever made," says Mantle, "and I had nothing to do with it. My wife,Merlyn, found it and bought it. She spells her name M-e-r-l-y-n. Yogi alwaysthought her name was Marilyn and that, with my accent, I couldn't pronounce itright. I met her back in 1950. She was a senior then at Picher High. Igraduated the year before from Commerce High in the next town over. The twoschools were rivals, so I came back to watch them play football that year.Merlyn was a majorette. I tell her that when I first saw her she was prancin'around in front of a lot of people with her pants off. Friend of mine knew hersister and that's how we met."
"Actually,Mickey took out my girl friend first," says Merlyn. "Didn't date meuntil later." She is a small woman, blonde and slender. Mantle is notalways immediately comfortable around strangers. He is inclined to measure themwith the suspicious eye of a celebrity inured to meeting those who wantsomething out of him. But once a newcomer passes muster, he is accorded thegood ol' boy familiarity. Merlyn has no such early reservations. She isfriendly, open and bright. A visitor to the Mantle home is instantly struck bywhat amounts to an anomaly in ballplayer households—there are books on thebookshelves, scores of them, everything from bestsellers to Nancy Drewadventures. "I love to read," Merlyn says. "I'd read all the timeif I had the time."
Mickey Jr.answers the phone ringing in the kitchen. "It's Billy, Dad.""Billy? Billy Martin? I'll be damned." Mantle struggles up from thecouch and hurries to the kitchen. "Hey, Billy...."
"Billy'sprobably calling to wish Mickey's mother a happy birthday," says Merlyn."She was 81 yesterday, but I'm sure Mickey gave him the wrong date. Mickeynever remembers these things. Billy, he's got the memory of anelephant."
On the line,Billy tells his old buddy that he's sure the new commissioner will reinstateboth him and Willie because, he says, "Mr. Ueberroth is a man of truth"and Mickey is far too important and too great a guy to be left out in thecold.
Mantle is smilingafter the conversation. "It's not like I was banned from somehundred-thousand-a-year job or anythin'," he says. "To me it was like atwo-week vacation ever' year. I was supposed to be a batting instructor [forthe Yankees], which I was not." Still, he is grateful for his old friend'sconcern. "Me and Billy were roommates for seven years." He leaves theroom and returns with a photograph taken in the early '50s of the two of them,postgame as well as game-time running mates, hell-raisers back then. The badboys are smirking at the cameras. "The Yankees always claimed they tradedBilly because he was a bad influence on me," Mantle says. "Hell, theytraded him in 1957, the year after I won the Triple Crown." He pulls outone of his Claridge cards and turns to the statistics on the back. "Lessee,I hit .353, had 52 home runs and drove in 130 runs. Billy told George Weiss,our general manager, 'If I'm a bad influence, just look what the guy did. Howmuch better do you think he can get?' " Mantle chuckles. "Three yearslater, they found it wasn't Billy who was the bad influence, anyway. It wasWhitey Ford.
"The thingis, I was only makin' $32,000 in '56. We didn't have no long-term contracts,either. So the first contract they send me for '57 is for a little $5,000raise. I ended up with $65,000, but in '57 I hit .365—three-six-five!—and theytried to get me to take a $10,000 cut. They said I didn't have as good a yearas before because I only hit 34 home runs. That Weiss was mean, boy, mean. Heeven had a private eye on me. Threatened to show the report to my wife. Hell,the only thing on it was that I was comin' in at one in the morning, and shealready knew that. I finally got up to $100,000 and stayed there—no raise, nocut. At that, I thought I was overpaid. Roger [Maris] was as good as me and sowas Whitey. Now, how could you even afford to pay a Whitey Ford today. Man winsseven out of ever' 10 games he pitches. But hell, I know all the business dealsI'm gettin' now aren't because I'm a lead miner from Oklahoma. It's because Iused to play for the Yankees."
Mantle leavesagain and returns with a tall Styrofoam cup that has a photo on it of asooty-faced teenage Mickey in a miner's helmet on one side, and on the otherthe legend DON'T WORRY ABOUT ME—I CAN ALWAYS GET A JOB. He turns the cup in hishand. "I worked in the lead mines outside of Commerce when I was a kid.They went straight down into the ground 400 feet, not into the side of somehill. I had to go down there. My father was the ground boss. Worked the minesall his life. He died when he was 39. Grandfather and uncles the same thing.Early. Hell, I only figured to live 'til 40. That's why I had as much fun as Icould while I was young. You know the old saying, 'If I'd known I was gonnalive this long, I'd a taken better care of myself.' That's me, allright."
If Mays wasprotected as a teenager by his Black Baron teammates, he was practicallycoddled by the Giants when he came to them 18 days after his 20th birthday. Themanager then was Leo Durocher, who knew a meal ticket when he saw one. Durocherput the youngster in centerfield and told him he'd stay there no matter what hedid, and at first he didn't do much. Mays began his career 1 for 26, but thatfirst hit was a home run over the roof of the Polo Grounds off Warren Spahn,now a fellow Hall-of-Famer. With Durocher trumpeting his praises, often to thechagrin of older players, and a fawning New York press virtually inventing hispersonality—the unspoiled child of nature—Willie Mays became the stuff oflegend. Mays denies that he was ever as innocent as he was depicted, but he didthrive on his privileged status. After the 1955 season Durocher resigned underpressure and was replaced by Bill Rigney, a much younger man who didn't regardhis star as a surrogate offspring. Mays had lost a protector. In '58, the teammoved to San Francisco and Mays lost his adoring New York press, as well.
Much has beenmade, most of it nonsense, about San Francisco's rejection of Mays, the myth,largely of New York contrivance, having it that the fans there were so lockedinto the memory of Joe DiMaggio, a local boy, that they could not accept thisnewcomer from the East. So prejudiced were the fans against the transplantedNew Yorker, the story goes, that they adopted a mere rookie, Orlando Cepeda, astheir own favorite. After Nikita Khrushchev's visit to San Francisco in 1959,Frank Conniff, then the national editor of the Hearst newspapers, was moved tocomment, "What a city. They cheer Khrushchev and boo Willie Mays." Thereality of the situation was much simpler. His new fans in the West simplyrequired that Mays prove to them he was as good as people in the East said hewas. He did, and they gave him his due. As a San Francisco Giant Mays hit forthe highest average of his career (.347 in 1958) and also had career highs inhome runs (52 in 1965) and RBIs (141 in 1962).
He also becamesomething other than the unspoiled boy-man he was supposed to be. Mays was 26when he went West, 27 a month into his first season in San Francisco. In asense, he grew up there, and the growing up was sometimes painful anddisillusioning. He had to be bailed out of foolish financial difficulties, someof which were brought on by a stormy and well-publicized divorce from his firstwife, Marghuerite. Criticism did not sit well with him, and he often exhibiteda petulant, suspicious nature. Like Mantle back then, he was hardly anautograph seeker's delight or a newsman's favorite interview. Even after hequit playing, there were embarrassing disputes between him and the Giants overthe retiring of his number and the scheduling of a "day" for him, anevent that finally took place a decade after his retirement. Mays has givenevery evidence recently that he is at peace with his old team and his adoptedcity. His number hangs on the rightfield wall at Candlestick Park alongside MelOtt's, Carl Hubbell's, Bill Terry's, Juan Marichal's and Willie McCovey's. In1980 he was elected with DiMaggio as a charter member of the Bay Area SportsHall of Fame, and his acceptance speech that night was both gracious andhumble. In it, he surprised his audience by talking more about DiMaggio thanabout himself.
"Joe was myidol," Mays says now. "Joe is a very shy man. To get to know him takessome doing, but I know him pretty well. Joe and I do a lot of things together.We don't have no problems. Some people just don't want to hear that. They wantto think of him and me as rivals and make a big thing out of it. Hey, I knew hewas the hometown guy, that he started playing at old Funston Park. I wasn'ttrying to take anything away from him. Joe is a nice, pleasant man. We'refriends."
As for theGiants, "You know what I'd really like to do is help Davvy [San Franciscomanager Jim Davenport] out in spring training. I love spring training. It'dgive me a chance to get back in shape. Davvy and I been together so long, I'dlove to work for him. He's got kids on that team—Chili Davis is one—who knowhow to play the game, but they don't know the art of the game. I'd like toteach them how to run the bases and play the outfield. When I was playing, Ihad the potential to steal 50 bases, instead of 30 or 40, but I only stole whenI had to. I never played for records of any kind, only to win games. In fact, Idon't think I have any records, but whatever records there are, I'm in the top10. That's the kind of player I wanted to be—an across-the-board kind.
"I used tolove running the ball down in the outfield. That [Vic] Wertz catch [in the '54Series] everybody talks about wasn't my favorite. I made many catches betterthan that. I remember once at Candlestick, Bobby Bonds and I went up for a ballat the fence in right center. Bobby never did learn how to climb a fence, so Iwent up and caught it. When I came down, I hit his knee. It knocked me out, butI held on to the ball. I hated makin' errors. One day in St. Louis I made fourerrors. Four errors! I only made seven all season and I made four in one game.After, in the clubhouse, I took that glove and cut it all to pieces."
He leans back inthe couch, a restless man now pensive. "I think I missed baseball my firsttwo years out of it, but when you're out for a while and working in business,you kind of lose track. I'll still watch a few games, but if I go into theclubhouse now in San Francisco, how many guys will I know? I feel out ofplace." He laughs. "But what I really miss is spring training. Davvywould understand I'm not out there trying to get his job. They wouldn't evenneed to pay me—just expenses. You know, even though I'm busy, I've left Marchopen every year just for this reason."