Before the New York Mets had ever played one game as a team, Willie Mays had already hit more home runs than all but six players then in the Hall of Fame. By now, he has stolen more bases than Rabbit Maranville, hit for more bases than either Ty Cobb or Babe Ruth, caught more fly balls than Tris Speaker, scored more runs than Honus Wagner and driven in more than Ted Williams.*
You have to come early to the Mets' warm-ups to be certain of seeing Mays; more days than not, his most extensive exposure to the public gaze comes at batting practice with the other pinch hitters, those "extra men" left over after the starting lineup has been named. He takes his cuts two hours before game time with the Jim Beauchamps, the Dave Marshalls, the Ed Kranepools; he has hit more than four times as many home runs as all three of these playmates put together. It is very soon noticed that Willie Mays is the only one among them who runs to the box when his turn comes. "I'm gonna kill you cockseekers today," he laughs. He fouls off two pitches then drives one to the grass just past the infield. "That's a hit," he cries. "You got to give me that." They rule him out; "Cockseekers," he grumbles and wanders away to pick up balls for coach Eddie Yost to hit to the fielders.
Here there bounds intact his image as eternal child. For here he takes his ease; he need fear for tests this night. But then there arrives an afternoon when he has been inscribed to start; and there falls upon him in the batting cage a desperation like the prisoner's in his cell. The face cherished by his countrymen along with Ernie Banks's as the last unaffectedly accommodating black one suddenly evokes some photograph from Attica, the nostrils flared, the eyes hot, the temper sour, and nothing between him and despair except self-esteem.
[Photo Via: Sports Illustrated]