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If you like Willie Mays's story, you might also like:
Hank Aaron,
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
Yogi Berra,
Julius Erving,
Frank M. Johnson,
B.B. King,
Coretta Scott King,
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Pete Rozelle,
Bill Russell,
Herschel Walker
and Andrew Young

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Willie Mays
Willie Mays
Profile of Willie Mays Biography of Willie Mays Interview with Willie Mays Willie Mays Photo Gallery

Willie Mays Interview (page: 3 / 8)

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  Willie Mays

Were you a natural athlete?

Willie Mays: I never worked at anything pertaining to sports. I think I should have.

I think that all athletes should practice. They should practice because you want to know what's happening as far as when the game is concerned. I didn't have to do that. In spring training, when people go out running -- you know, like they run laps, or around things there -- I would go in and sleep. I was sleeping 'til they get through, then I would go out and run around the bases for a minute, and then I would hit. That's my spring training. I never had any problems as far as my body was concerned. I was very blessed with a good body. Never got hurt. Never was in the hospital. The only time I was in the hospital was when I would get exhausted a little bit and go in for a check-up or something. But, I was blessed with a body that I didn't have to do all that, you know. Like, if I went 0 for 5, or 0 for 6, I didn't get a hit for two days, I wouldn't take no batting practice for like two to three days because I felt I was tired. So, I would go in and just rest and go play the game. Show up -- if the game was one o'clock, I show up at 12. Go play the game. Go back home, come the next day, play the game. Never practiced, never did anything.

When I got my body back together, I would go out and let the opposition see me. Only let them see me, I still can throw. That means I'm not sick, I'm just resting. That means, don't run, I still can throw. You had to do all that in order to play sports. But my body stayed the same all the time.

Willie Mays Interview Photo
Now you're talking about young people. I think young people when they go into sports should practice. They should take all kinds of precautions with their bodies. That means get in shape. I was always in shape all year long. I never got out of shape, that was one of the keys, I think. But you have to practice. You have to know what's going on as far as you body is concerned. You have to take orders from the manager, whatever he gives you.

I was lucky. I managed myself. Every manager that I had said, "Hey, play your game. You know what you have to do, but I have to manage the other 24 guys." I understood what he was saying to me, but I didn't get out of line. I didn't make mistakes. I would have a manager like Leo, if you make a mistake: $100. If I made another mistake: $200. I used to make maybe three mistakes a year out of 154 games. Other guys could make mistakes all the time and nobody said anything, because they were supposed to make mistakes. Not me.

What about the strategies of the game?

Willie Mays: When I played I was the captain of the ball club. I would position everybody around the field. I tried to explain this to a guy one time and he says, "How'd you do all that?" I said, "Well, I had one sign." I'd pick up my hand, and everybody was on my hand. "Go this way, this way, left, go right." That means I want to set the left fielder up on the line, right fielder's got to be on the line. I cover the gaps. That's the outfield. Infielders would go spread out. That means the first baseman would cover the line, the third baseman cover the line, leave the middle open. The shortstop and second base would cover. Now they're all in this one hand, but we'd go through it before the game starts. "Go left, go right." That means everybody. Now, if you didn't watch this hand, you didn't play the next day because baseball is teamwork. It's a team job. Everybody has to play together. Everybody has to have a little sense of what the other guy is doing.

That was the reason that I was the captain. "If you want to be the captain, you do it." That's what I would tell my guys. That's how easy baseball was for me. I'm not trying to brag or anything, but I had the knowledge before I became a professional baseball player to do all these things and know what each guy would hit.

How did you know where each guy would hit?

Willie Mays: That was one of my jobs, to make sure that I knew how he would hit. The key there is how the pitcher was going to pitch. I would go over the roster with the pitcher before the game. How you're going pitch this guy, how you're going to pitch that guy. If the pitcher's going to change and go another direction, he would turn to me in center field. We had three signs: one, two, three, then wipe-off. That means he's wiping off this now, we're going to pitch this guy another way. The pitcher, and the catcher and I would all work together. As a team, we did very well with that, when I played with the Giants.

Willie Mays Interview Photo

Who are some of the other people who influenced you?

Willie Mays: Piper Davis saw me play with a club called the Grey Socks. They played us down in my little hometown and they had an exhibition game. And, he came down and I hit a ball about 450. It should have been a home run in any ball park. I was only about 14 then, and I was playing shortstop. Then they hit a ball and it hit me off my chest. Bang! I pick up the ball and go to go to second. The second baseman wasn't there, so I pick it up and threw it to first. So he said to me, "How did you have that instinct of knowing how to do that?" I said, "Piper, I just reacted. If the guy wasn't there, why would I throw him the ball? You've got to go the next and get that one run out." So he talked to my father, to let me come and play with the Birmingham Black Barons the next year, which I was around 15. And my father said, "I don't know if he's ready. He might be too young." He said, "Well, I'll take care of him." Piper Davis did this for me. If you pitched today, you were my roommate tonight. The next day, another pitcher, he was my roommate. I never went out alone. I never stayed by myself alone.

I think I was programmed to do good things when I came into the majors. I knew how to play.

Piper and I would sit on the bench and he'd say, "This guy is going to knock you down. Don't worry about it," he said. "He's trying to scare you." He'd say, "This guy hits this way." He and I had a sign. His sign was behind his back, only with the hand, again, left or right. That's the way the guy's going to pitch. Because he was the manager and he used to call almost all the pitches, so he knew exactly what to do. So, Piper had the first influence on me to be patient and to learn because I wasn't old enough to understand about playing with guys that were 25. Some was older, some pushed their age back, so they might have been older than what I'm saying, but they was all grown. I'm out there by myself. I'm probably the youngest of all the teams around the league I'm talking about.

[ Key to Success ] Preparation

So he was the first one, Piper Davis and Audie Wilson.

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This page last revised on Dec 06, 2013 13:13 EDT
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