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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,
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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: 5 / 8)

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  Willie Mays

What did Leo Durocher mean to you?

Willie Mays Interview Photo
Willie Mays: Leo Durocher was like my father away from home. I first met Leo in Sanford, Florida. We had to play a special game for him. They started me in left field. The first ball was hit, I ran into the wall. He switched me from left to center. I caught the next ball because I had more room. Now he was talking about the Polo Grounds that had the big center field, and I didn't really understood what he was talking about, but I hit a home run that day. Leo knew what I could do, so it was just a problem of making the transition from the minor league into the majors.

When I went to California I stayed with Leo in his house. His kid, Chris Durocher, was my roommate on the road. Chris would go to the black areas and stay with me. Leo trusted me. He knew that if his kid was going to stay with me, nothing was going to happen to that kid. When we used to eat soul food, he didn't know what it was. We had black-eyed peas, cornbread, chitlins, and he was used to eating steaks! He goes back and he tells his father, "I had cornbread," and his father started laughing. So Leo said, "Okay, I'll give you another $40 a day." So I made another $40 on top of my meal money. We would get the kid the same stuff. We never game him a steak, the same stuff. He'd go back and tell his father, and he'd come to me, "Haven't you been feeding my kid?" "Leo, I fed him, what do you want me to do?"

I had such a good time with Leo. I met so many good people in Hollywood. Jeff Chandler used to come to spring training with me, Pat O'Brien, all the movie stars. Leo would have a party for me when I used to go there. All the big stars used to come there: Randolph Scott, Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis. So I said, "Leo, why don't we have a game?" All the stars would come to Arizona and we used to have a game with these stars. We used to have a beautiful outing. So Leo was like my second father away from home.

What happened when they called you to come up to the big leagues?

Willie Mays: I said, "No, I don't want to come, Leo. I think I'm having a good year, I don't think I want to come up there." He said, "Be on the next plane." That's the way Leo talked. I didn't even go back to get my clothes, they had to send for them. My team had to put an apology in the newspaper, because I was doing so well and they was drawing very, very well. The manager apologized for having to bring me up, but he needed me in New York. When they called me I was in a movie house in Sioux City. A message came across the screen: "Willie Mays, report to the box office." Now I'm saying to myself, "Who knows me in Sioux City? This is my first time here." I went to the phone there and Leo said, "We'd like to have you in New York. How much can you hit? Can you hit 250?" I said I could walk that. He said, "Okay, you be on the plane the next morning." That was Leo, he had so much confidence in himself that he put it all into other people.

Weren't you a little bit nervous?

Willie Mays Interview Photo
Willie Mays: Yes. I was crying, I'm telling you. Freddy Fitzsimmons was my first base coach. He used to pitch to me at a lot of batting practices and stuff. I was crying in my locker, and he came in and he saw me, and he tells Leo, "You better go see about your boy. He's in there crying." I had played four games and only got one hit. So I'm nervous now. "He's going to send me back very quickly, because that's the way they do it in the majors. If you don't hit, you're gone." Leo came out and said to me, "You're my center fielder. Don't worry about anything else, just go on home and relax." I was living at the top of Sugar Hill on 155th Street. All the people I lived with were from Birmingham. I knew all the people. I used to come home at night and see a lot of people out there watching. I'm saying, "Why are all these people out there? They didn't tell me 'til a year later, that these people were waiting for me to come home. They had to make sure I was in bed by nine o'clock every night, and I didn't realize that this was happening.

When I got to play stickball in New York, the kids would knock on my window in the morning. Like, if we got a day game or something, I'd be at the ball park at 12 o'clock, they would knock on at nine o'clock. Now I got to eat, I got to get up, I got to go out and play stickball with them for about 20 minutes, and then I had to go to the ball park. And I'm saying to myself, "I'm tired," but I said, "No, these are kids." We had no losers there. Everybody had ice cream. So I would take $20 out of my pocket every day, go play, buy the ice cream for all the kids, and they knew that, so they all loved that.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

Willie Mays Interview Photo

I stayed with a family called Mrs. Ann Goosby. What Mr. Stoneham did for me -- which I think a lot of ball clubs should do for young ball players, but they don't do that anymore -- is that they placed me with a family that wanted to take care of me. Made sure that I was at home, made sure that I ate, made sure that I got things that I needed, made sure that everything was fine. If there was a problem, they would call the Giants. The Giants would know the problem before I knew it. So, I think if they can place this young fellow, whoever he may be, with a good family and still be like at home, I think he would be a much, much better ball player. And, that's what they did for me. I came up in 1951 to 1952 when I went in the service. I couldn't do nothing. When I had to go downtown -- and you know how New York is downtown -- I never went by myself. I went with a guy named Forbes. He was the boxing commissioner. And Mr. Stoneham hired this guy -- whenever I had to go downtown I had to call him. He would come and pick me up, take me down, buy clothes, or whatever I had to do, bring me back. I couldn't do nothing by myself. So, I say that they had a lot of stuff invested in me, and they made sure that I didn't get into no trouble.

What were you thinking when Bobby Thomson hit the famous "Shot Heard 'Round the World," to win the pennant for the Giants in 1951?

Willie Mays Interview Photo
Willie Mays: I was thinking about the day before. Bobby Thomson had hit a home run off of Ralph Branca in Ebbets Field, so I thought, "They're not going to pitch to him. They're going to walk Bobby Thomson, and Leo is going to pinch hit for me."

That was what I was thinking. I was thinking so hard, when Bobby hit the home run, I was the last guy to get to home plate. I didn't realize what was happening until everybody started running out.

If you ever see a picture, you'll see number 24 right in the background of all this pile. Knowing what I know about Leo, I think he would have pinch hit for me, that was my thinking. He said, "No, I would have let you hit." I said, "No, I don't think so." But it didn't happen, and I was very glad it didn't, very glad.

Is there any one moment with Leo that sticks out in your mind?

Willie Mays: Do you know anything about pepper? When the guy throws the ball and there's three or four guys playing around? We used to do that every day in spring training. And fans would come to the ball park like 11 o'clock, just to see that show. It would be three of us. It would be Hank Thomson, Monty Irvin and myself and Leo would be the hitter. And every time we hit, we got to pay five dollars or miss a ball. And he was standing right there. He was standing on top of us. I mean he would hit it hard, and he could never get me, and it would make him so mad because I would catch everything that came close to me. So, one day he hit, and he hit it off the top of my knee. And Mr. Stoneham was watching in the stands over there and I didn't know this. So, now the guy comes out and he says, "Phone call for Mr. Durocher." And Mr. Stoneham called Leo and said, "Wait a minute. You may play pepper, and pepper is fine, but if you hurt his knee he can't play! What am I going to do then?" He says, "I don't want you doing that." So now Leo started bunting -- hitting the ball easy to me -- and then hitting the ball hard to the other two guys. And I'm wondering, "Why is he hitting it so easy to me now?" So he told me later, "I can't hit it hard to you anymore." I said, "Well why play pepper then, if you can't hit it hard?" So, they babied me a little bit. It was fun.

Willie Mays Interview Photo

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