Results tagged ‘ Willie Mays ’

Tim and Willie

The greatest Giant of all time, and the greatest Giant of this time, held court in separate rooms in the bowels of AT&T Park this afternoon.

Willie Mays, in his ever-present Giants’ cap and jacket, fielded questions from wide-eyed Giants’ rookies about the toughest pitchers he ever faced (Koufax, Gibson, Drysdale and Rush) and his greatest influence (his father) during his reign as the best player in baseball.

Down the hall, in the Giants press conference room, newly crowned two-time Cy Young winner Tim Lincecum fielded questions from reporters about his hopes for the future (World Series ring) and his greatest influence (yes, his father) during his two-year reign as the best pitcher in baseball.

The concrete corridor connecting the two rooms felt like a wormhole in an orange-and-black universe, a shortcut through time and space.

“I couldn’t have ever seen this happening growing up,” Lincecum was saying.

He was flanked by Bruce Bochy, Dave Righetti and Brian Sabean, who struggled to put into words just how remarkable Lincecum’s performance has been, winning back-to-back Cy Youngs in his first two full seasons in the majors.

“It’s almost overwhelming,” Righetti said. “Where do you go from here?”

You go where Mays went.

Into the history books.

Because you can read and hear everything from Lincecum’s press conference elsewhere, I’ll bring you the highlights of Mays’ lively chat with the Giants’ draftees on the second-to-last day of their winter conditioning camp.

(I’ll try to bring you a postmortem from Lincecum sometime in the next week.)

The 25 or so young players sat in chairs encircling Mays, who sat behind a small table.

“All right, guys, c’mon, what else?” Mays said, prompting the next question.

Ever get timed in the 60?

“No, no! I didn’t run! I told them, ‘I can’t run the ball over the fence.’ When they were out running, I was asleep in the clubhouse. They got you just running here? You doing some hitting?”

No, the players said. Just conditioning work.

“That’s not fun! Maybe I should say something. You want to hit a little bit and then go run. You got to enjoy yourself.”

He told them about his struggles against Drysdale, Gibson, Koufax and Bob Rush then added: “I made up for it on all the other guys, the scrubs. I destroyed them.”

Best players you ever saw?

Robert Clemente, Mays said. Barry Bonds – “If I don’t say Barry, he’ll start a fight.” Bobby Bonds (Now, he could run!” ) , Maury Wills (“Played a good shortstop.”) and Frank Robinson (“Triple Crown winner”).

What did you do in the off-season?

“Work, man, work! That’s a very good question. I played basketball, football – touch football – they didn’t know I played football! I had a 32 waistline. I worked out and played all the time. No time to lay around. Had to keep myself in shape. Played winter ball two times.”

We’ve heard from other major-league players about what makes a good teammate. What’s your definition?

“In 1962, they made me captain. I positioned the outfielders, the infielders, I’d call pitches from centerfield – he didn’t have to take them but I wanted him throw a pitch I thought I could catch. You had to get 25 guys playing together even though nine or ten don’t play much at all and it feels bad. I’d go to the manager and say, ‘I want this guy to play because he needs to feel part of the team.’ The guy would go 9 for 10 and he’d go sit down and feel like a part of the team. When guys had problems at home, they’d come to me and I’d call their wives. I knew the wives better than I knew the players!”

Your greatest baseball achievement?

“Man, I had so many! I think my greatest achievement was when I signed my major-league contract.”

Greatest moment?

“Hitting four home runs in Milwaukee [with 8 RBI] was the greatest thing I ever did.”

Best park to hit in?

“Wrigley. To me the ball went out of there pretty good.”

Worst park to hit in?

“Candlestick. The wind’s always blowing in. We put a glove to a fence to see if it would fall and it didn’t fall. We could even hit it out in batting practice.

“I know you guys are saying, ‘Oh, hell, he didn’t do all this stuff. Oh yes I did.”

What was your farthest home run?

“I never worried about that! You just get it over the fence! You don’t care how far it went.”

What effect did race have back when you played?

“We went to some towns and I couldn’t stay in the same hotel. I remember once in Hagerstown, they dropped me off on the other side of the tracks. You guys from the South, you know what the other side of the track is. So they drop me off and I’m in a hotel, and at 2 o’clock in the morning two or three guys come through the window and sleep the rest of the night on my floor, and then at 6 a.m. they get up and go back out the window. They did the same thing the next night, watching out for me. Nothing was ever said.

“My father told me no matter what anybody said, never to fight. Turn the other cheek. I’d call him up and he’d ask, “Did you fight today?’ Back then, you had to make sure you were bigger than those people who called you names. They called you all kinds of names. But I knew for me to get ahead, I had to take all that kind of stuff. Every time somebody called me a name, I hit the ball.”

What did you do in a slump?

“A slump is going to happen to everybody in some way. For me, a slump was 0-for-10. Everyone has a different way of getting out of a slump. I’d get out by swinging inside-out and getting a hit that way.”

Throughout Mays’ talk, the young guys snapped photos with their cell phone, leaning close, recording forever their moment with the greatest player who ever stepped on a baseball field.

When Mays left, he rode a golf cart down the concrete corridor to Mike Murphy’s office inside the clubhouse. Then Lincecum, finally finished with his round of interviews, stopped by. Mays rose from his chair.

“Don’t get up!” Lincecum said. “You’re getting up for me?”

“Congratulations!” Mays said. He shook Lincecum’s hand.

They exchanged pleasantries as cameras snapped.

“Enjoy this,” Mays told him.

Lincecum said he would, thanked him and left, smiling and shaking his head at the whirlwind day. He still had more interviews to do – still more questions about how he does what he does. But Lincecum doesn’t have a clear answer to the question any more than Mays ever did.

Sometimes there are none.

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Emptying the notebook

Miscellaneous notes collected during the home stand:

?    From the PlayBall Luncheon April 3 at the Hilton: During the autograph signing period before lunch, reliever Jeremy Affeldt was stationed at a table next to Tim Lincecum. The line for Tim snaked through the ballroom. Affeldt attracted the occasional straggler. “See? I’m able to drink my entire Diet Coke,” Affeldt joked. “He hasn’t even taken a sip of his Sprite. No one even knows I’m a player.”
?    Lincecum, notoriously introverted in public, has blossomed this season. At the Hilton, one man thrust his three-year-old son onto Lincecum’s lap for a picture. Then the man’s wife stepped up and handed Lincecum their four-month-old. With the deft of a politician, Lincecum shifted the three-year-old to his right arm and held the baby with his left. Cracked Affeldt, laughing at the spectacle, “He is sweating profusely right now.” Before the mother retrieved her baby, she had Lincecum sign the baby’s tiny T-shirt. “OK,” Lincecum said, “that’s a first.”
?    I spent some time with Fred Lewis recently for a Giants Magazine story (for Issue No. 3). He’s still working on advice he received from Willie Mays during spring training. Mays told him that to get most of his arm he needed to grip the ball across the seams. Mays showed him how in the blink of an eye he could grab the ball from his glove and manipulate it in his hand so his fingers were across the seam by the time he cocked his hand back to throw. “His hands are like twice the size of mine,” Lewis said, suggesting that perhaps this is the reason he can’t master the move yet. “It’s hard!” he said. He keeps practicing, though, because Mays told him, “If you grip the ball right, you don’t have to worry about how strong your arm is.”
?    Lewis also related the story of his first encounter with Mays last season. “Lewis? That you?” Mays asked when he came across him in the clubhouse. “What’re you doing diving for the ball?” Mays apparently had gone apoplectic when he saw Lewis make a diving catch. Lewis respectfully reminded Mays that he had, after all, made the catch and wasn’t that all that mattered? “You’re gonna get hurt! ” Mays said. “When I was playing I ain’t never had to dive! You’re fast – get to the ball. Stay on your feet. You never need to dive – you’re gonna miss games.”
?    Great news about Joey Martinez. Small hairline fractures and a concussion. Head injuries have a way of sneaking up on you, though. He’ll have to take it really easy, I would think, to make sure there’s no swelling.
?    Interesting story in the New York Times science section on Tuesday. It looked at a computer program that can simulate baseball games using different criteria. It simulates not just one season’s worth of games, but 100 seasons’ worth to eliminate random fluctuations. One finding: Aggressiveness on the base paths is generally counterproductive. A researcher looked at a recent team that stole a lot of bases, the 2008 Rays, and another, the 2005 A’s, that barely stole at all. He switched their strategies to see what happened. The A’s scored 20 fewer runs per season by running more. And the Rays, by running less, scored 47 more runs per season.
?    On my schedule are several trips down to San Jose to watch the Single A Giants. I’m hoping to get down there this Sunday. They play at Municipal Stadium at 2 p.m. against Stockton.

Willie and the Kids

Willie Mays has been holding court in the Giants clubhouse for the better part of a week, telling stories and haranguing the players in his distinctive high-pitched voice and colorful language. With his eyeglasses perched across his forehead and a Giants cap high on his head, he sits at a round table just inside the clubhouse door with his right-hand man, Peewee, and a rotating parade of players and reporters and clubhouse guys filling the other seats.

After purposely butchering the pronunciation of Ishikawa’s name and skewering him for not really being Japanese since he was born in the U.S., Mays recalled hitting 18 home runs in one minute in a home run derby in Japan. Among other prizes, he won a Kobe steer.

“What’d you do with him?” Ishikawa asked.

“I sold him!” he said. “I wasn’t gonna bring that sumbitch back with me!”

Ishikawa’s locker is next to the table where Mays sits, as are Fred Lewis’s and Manny Burriss’. All three young players found reasons to be glued to their lockers whenever Mays was around, and they kept up a steady banter. Mays showed Lewis how to grip the ball a little differently to keep throws from tailing off.

One day, Lewis decided to push his luck.

“So, Willie, when are you going to take me to dinner?” he asked.

“Take you? You should be taking me! What are you gonna cook?”

“Some pig leg soup,” Lewis said.

“How’d you cook that?”

“Pot of water, some pig legs, salt and pepper and let it boil.”

Mays winced. “Why don’t you come to my house? I have some pies.”

Burriss, delighted by the whole exchange – and with a clubhouse reputation for consuming more food than a man twice his size — jumped in.

“That’s the magic word! I’m coming!”

Before Mays could change his mind Lewis said, “How about Saturday?”

Ishikawa was invited, too.

The three players set out after the Rockies game Saturday to Mays’ Scottsdale house, after a detour at Lewis’s home to pick up his camera.

This morning, when Burris arrived in the clubhouse, I asked how it went. “Amazing,” he said.

And the food? Steak and chicken and six different pies, he said.

“Are you talking about food again?’ Rich Aurilia said as he walked by.

“I had a piece of three of them,” Burriss said. Apple, potato and oatmeal. (And, no, he had never heard of oatmeal pie, either.)

Maybe Lewis will share a photo. If so, I’ll post it along with his and Ishikawa’s highlights of the night.

Before heading out to Mays’ house on Saturday, Burriss and Lewis met with about 50 Giants fans as part of the team’s “Giants Vacations” package. As the fans ate barbeque in the pavilion beyond left field, Duane Kuiper presided over a panel of the two players plus special guest Will Clark. Some snippets:

On what it was like to put a Giants uniform on again, Clark said, “It’s like being back with your family.”

On the Dodgers being the team for the Giants to watch out for in the NL West, Burriss said, “If we do the things we’re capable of doing, the Dodgers should watch out for us.” To which Clark added, “Every time I see that Dodger uniform, I want to grab a bat.”

Clark on working with Ishikawa: “He’s a great first-baseman. We’re working on the mental game, knowing where the ball is going to go almost before it’s hit. ‘OK, it’s a breaking ball, it’s going to be down the line.’ ” In fact, Burriss said he whispered to Ishikawa during yesterday’s game that the signal was for a breaking ball, whereupon Ishikawa cheated toward first base and made a spectacular snag of a bullet down the line.

Asked by a little girl if they ever get tired: “According to the rookie code, I can never say I’m tired. So the answer is no – until I’m Fred’s age.”

Also on Saturday night: Across town from Mays’ house, Barry Zito was hosting his own special dinner. I’ll tell you about in my next post.

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