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If you like Willie Mays's story, you might also like:
Hank Aaron,
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar,
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Julius Erving,
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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: 4 / 8)

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  Willie Mays

Did Jackie Robinson influence you?

Willie Mays Interview Photo
Willie Mays: Robinson was important to all blacks. To make it into the majors and to take all the name calling, he had to be something special. He had to take all this for years, not just for Jackie Robinson, but for the nation. Because all eyes were on Jackie at that particular time.

We were pulling for him. When Jackie came in, I automatically became a Dodger fan, because I wanted to pull for him. I wanted to make sure that he was a very successful guy. Doby came in about two weeks after him, and he was in the American League, but we didn't see him that much. Doby didn't get the recognition as being the first black. I would say Jackie had more influence on, not just me, but almost all blacks in sports, or whatever.

When you were young, did you think you'd ever play in the big leagues?

Willie Mays: No. I didn't think I would have a chance, because of segregation. I didn't think I would ever get out of Birmingham. When they signed me they really weren't looking at me, they were looking at a guy named Alonzo Perry. I didn't think I was ever going to get out of there.

My father said to me, "You're not going into a cotton field, that's number one." That means picking cotton down there, putting it in a sack, carrying it on your shoulder. "You're not going to do that. You're going to play baseball." They always drilled that on me, "You're going to play baseball. You're going to be the best in baseball." Not knowing that one day you would be. He just drilled it. I had the best shoes; I had the best glove, the best everything, as far as sports was concerned. So, my house was like a sporting goods shop. When kids didn't have shoes, they'd come and get my shoes, wear them, bring them back. That was a community thing. So, we had a good relationship in my community when I played.

In 1950, when the Giants signed me, they gave me $15,000. I bought a 1950 Mercury. I couldn't drive, but I had it in the parking lot there, and everybody that could drive would drive the car. So it was like a community thing. Everybody knew the car, everybody knew who it was. It just was a wonderful time that I had growing up as a kid.

How was it when you broke into the minor leagues?

Willie Mays: My first game in the minor leagues was when I was signed by a guy by the name of Eddie Montague. He signed me to go to Trenton, New Jersey, that was the Interstate League.

I was the first black in that particular league. And, we played in a town called Hagerstown, Maryland. I'll never forget this day, on a Friday. And, they call you all kind of names there, "nigger" this, and "nigger" that. I said to myself -- and this is why Piper Davis came in -- in my mind, "Hey, whatever they call you, they can't touch you. Don't talk back." Now this was on a Friday. And the Friday night I hit two doubles and a home run; they never clapped. The next day I hit the same thing. There was a house out there in the back there, I hit that twice. Now they started clapping a little bit. You know how that is, you know, they clapped a little bit. By Sunday there was a big headline in the paper: "Do Not Bother Mays." You understand what I'm saying? They call you all kinds of names. Now this is the first two games I played. By Sunday, I come to bat, they're all clapping. And I'm wondering, wait a minute, what happened to the Friday, what happened to the Saturday?

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

Willie Mays Interview Photo

Because you were housed separately from your teammates in Hagerstown, did you feel isolated? Do you think that separation made you susceptible to potential trouble?

Because I couldn't stay with the ball club, and when they dropped me off in Hagerstown -- this was a unique thing that I had happen to me, my first time -- they dropped me off downtown in the black area. About two o'clock in the morning, three players came through the window, and they slept on the floor. One of my right fielders, Hank Rowland, one of the catchers, Herb Perelto, and another guy, Bob Easterwood, slept on the floor until about six o'clock in the morning. I said, "Hey man, I don't need no help here." I said, "I think I can handle whatever happens." "No, no, no, we're going to stay here." They stayed with me until six o'clock in the morning. They got up, went back out the window, and came back around four o'clock. Picked me up, we drove back to the ball park, nobody knew about it, but I did. I was so thankful, not because what happened. It's because I felt that those guys understood my problems, they knew that, hey, if something would happen, I might have got hurt, or I would have hurt somebody, and then I wouldn't have had a career.

You must have had to give up some things, to start your professional career so young.

Willie Mays Interview Photo
Willie Mays: I was in high school and I couldn't go to my high school prom, because a guy named Chick Genove had called two days before and talked to my father. "We need him right now," because they weren't drawing. I said, "Dad, I've got to go to the prom." He says, "Well you know, money comes first," because I was feeding my sisters and my brothers. $15,000 was a lot of money. I really had to take a cut from 500 down to 250 to get into professional ball. I had to pay a guy to take my date to the prom that particular day, so I know the date, May 29th. It wasn't bad. It was okay, but I didn't want to do it. To get into the majors you had to give up a lot, you know.

What did you feel when you first played in New York?

Willie Mays: I had played there before. When I was 15 I had played in the Polo Grounds with the New York Cubans. People didn't know that because they didn't go and see the Negro players play all the time. So I knew about the Polo Grounds. It was no stranger to me. We had played in a lot of ball parks, but I think the strangest one, rather than the Polo Grounds was over in Brooklyn, called the Bushwick. We played under the El there. Now that was strange, more so than the Polo Grounds, because they had all these ex-players over there.

When I came back in 1951, I didn't start in New York, I started in Philadelphia. Friday, Saturday and Sunday, that was my first game. I think I went 0 for 12, or 0 for 13, or whatever, and I'm really, really worried because in the minors I'm hitting .477, killing everybody. And I came to the majors, I couldn't hit. I was playing the outfield very, very well, throwing out everybody, but I just couldn't get a hit. I didn't strike out a lot. And I started crying, and Leo came to me and he says, "You're my center fielder; it doesn't make any difference what you do. You just go home, come back and play tomorrow." I think that really, really turned me around because the next day I hit a home run off of Spahn for my first hit. And, then I went another ten games, another ten at bat without getting a hit, and then I blossomed up right quick.

[ Key to Success ] Perseverance

I should have hit around .290 my first year, but I hit .271. Twenty home runs and 74 runs scored. That was in half a season. So I did very well in my first year.

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