New Ads

New ads

Thursday, May 6, 2021

The Unforgettable Night Willie Mays Played Shortstop


New Meaning To "Let's Play Two"

By Harry Cummins

     Willie Mays turns 90 this week, the oldest living member of  baseball's Hall of Fame. He played centerfield in the major leagues for 22 years and is considered by most to have been the greatest ever to play his position.

    I was blessed  to watch Mays play in person 3 separate times in my lifetime. My first memory of him came in the 1961 All-Star game as I watched him follow a Hank Aaron single with  a double to tie the game in the 10th inning. Mays would later score the winning run for the National League on a Roberto Clemente single.

    A year later, I remember Mays stroking another double but left stranded at second base in the 9th inning as Giants teammate Willie McCovey lined out to Bobby Richardson, giving the Yankees a 1-0 victory in Game 7 of the 1962 World Series.

     The final time I saw Willie Mays on a baseball field came at 11:25 pm in New York City in 1964, as he left the field after playing a doubleheader vs the Mets.  The second game of the twin bill lasted 23 innings and had begun at 4:02 in the afternoon.  Time of game 7 hours and 23 minutes. The first game was played in 2 hours and 27 minutes.  Willie Mays played all 32 innings and all 9 hours and 50 minutes of baseball. It was an arresting long day's journey into night for the dynamic 'Say Hey Kid'.

     Mays himself could have prevented the second game marathon had he made a miraculous catch in the 7th inning.  Trailing by 3 runs, Joe Christopher of the Mets belted a drive to CF that appeared to be a certain 3 run home run which would tie the game at 6-6.  Mays however leaped high over the wall and made a leaping catch.  "I thought I had it," Willie would say later, his arm covered with scratches and mercurochrome.  "I did have it, then I lost it when my arm struck the fence on the way down"  It took 16 more eventful innings before anyone could score again. 

    What transpired during this remarkable game defies description.   Mays came in to play shortstop for innings 10,11, and 12. "Maybe that was a good way to give him a rest," Giants manager Alvin Dark laughed, as he faced a positional jig-saw puzzle in extra innings.

     If it wasn't enough to see the greatest centerfielder of all time playing shortstop, the emotional highlight of the game came in the 14th inning, as Mays coaxed a walk and the Giants had 2 runners on base with no outs. Then, with both runners off with the pitch, Orlando Cepeda hit a screamer toward left field. In one whirling motion, Mets shortstop Roy McMillan snared the liner, stepped on 2nd and doubled Mays off first for a triple play. Definitive evidence this was NOT your ordinary baseball game!

     By the time Del Crandall slapped a single to right in the 23rd inning to win the game for the Giants, most all of the record-breaking crowd had long since departed. The following day, a photo of Mays slumped in his front of his locker ran on the front page of the newspaper.  Eyes half-closed, he looked exhausted.

    "Anybody who aint tired after all that, has got to have something wrong with him", said the erstwhile centerfielder briefly turned shortstop.

   Happy 90th Birthday, Number 24.  Thanks for that 'nightcap.... and the abiding hangover.


No comments:

Post a Comment