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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: 7 / 8)

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  Willie Mays

At one point , weren't you asked to stop hitting home runs?

Willie Mays: That was in 1954. Monte Irvin had got hurt in spring and nobody was driving in runs, and he called me and he says, "I don't want you to hit home runs anymore." I said, "What are you talking about? That's my big thing."

What's been the greatest challenge in your life?

Willie Mays: The greatest challenge I think is adjusting to not playing baseball. The reason for that is that I had to come out of baseball and come into the business world, not being a college graduate, not being educated to come into the business world the way I should have. And, instead of people doing things for me, I had to do things for myself. That was scary for me.

Willie Mays Interview Photo
I had to go into a place where I'm already at now, Bally's Casino. I think that was nerve-wracking for me. Now I'm in the business world, I'm meeting business people that I didn't know about. What saved me was all the business people I met were baseball fans, and they helped me. You take a guy by the name of Mr. Billy Weinberger, who was at Bally's when I first went to work there. He helped me so much. He says, "Son..." -- he used to call me son -- "You have to be visible in this business." We sat down and we talked and he said, "You have to be visible, and you cannot be late. If you take those two things and you put them together, you'll never have a problem in this business. Because if you're late, they don't want to be involved with you. If you're visible, you're taking care of the hotel as a whole." He says, "You have to understand that this is not baseball now." He was involved with Joe Louis, when he was at Caesar's in Vegas. He hired me for a 10-year contract. And when I got into the business world, when you say how my life changed, it changed for the best.

I was still working for the Mets, but the commissioner said to me, "You can't work for the Mets and go down to Atlantic City." So I had to make a choice. I felt the choice was better in Atlantic City than it was with the Mets, at that particular time. I had so many decisions that I had to make on my own, with help of many friends around me, that my life was kind of scary.

Baseball was like walking through the park. But, coming into the business world, not being educated to the fact that you could deal with all of them, or one-on-one -- which I soon found out I could -- because just because you're in the business world doesn't mean that you're smarter than anybody that hasn't been to college. It doesn't mean that. You can deal with them one-on-one without any problem, and I could because I had been around the world started at age 15, so I knew actually what the business world was all about. I just was maybe a little frightened after coming out of baseball, being this star for so many years and now all of a sudden you're not the star, and that was frightening to me.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

You had to live outside of baseball.

Willie Mays: Yes, I had to learn how to live life outside, but I had so many people help me. I had a guy by the name of Vernon Alden, who was a CEO at First Boston Company in Boston. He was a Dean at Harvard. I used to play in the American Airlines golf tournament, and we were playing golf in Puerto Rico. The question came up, "What will you do when you get out of baseball?" I couldn't answer that. I'd never been out of baseball. I'd been in baseball since I was 12. That started me thinking. When I got home that night I called him up, I said, "Mr. Alden, could we have lunch? I'd like to really talk about what you asked me." And he said okay. We became good friends, and he got me three jobs. I was working for the Mets, he got me a job with Colgate-Palmolive on Park Avenue. He got me a job with a company called Ogden Foods, which was in the airports, and they had racetracks. Then he got me another job with Textile down in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Willie Mays Interview Photo
So I had all these business people that I'm dealing with. Colgate-Palmolive is a very, very big company, not only here, but across the water. I'm dealing with all these people and he came to me again and he said, "What you have to do is be Willie Mays. They want you to be Willie Mays. All you have to do is be yourself, and you will never have a problem." And I just started being me. Whatever they ask, I try and do it, to the best of my ability. I didn't have to do a lot of speaking, because they had professional speakers for that. Every company liked to show off their products and different things, and they knew their product.

I'm a very lucky guy. I had so many people help me over the years that I never had many problems. If I had a problem, I could sit down with someone and they would explain the problem to me, and the problem become like a baseball game. You're at home plate now, how do you get to first? How do you get to second? How do you get to third? When you get back to home, your problem is solved. That's the way I view the business world, I view it as a baseball game. Once you start thinking the way you've been taught to think over so many years, you have no problems.

I don't care what the problem is. If you're a writer, what do you write about? First you write about what you know. That's exactly what I'm saying. I was a baseball player, I taught baseball, and all of a sudden I was in the business world. Now I used the baseball world to talk about their product. Not too much, just enough to keep going. Just be yourself and you'll never have a problem. That's what I did.

Why was it important to graduate from high school?

Willie Mays Interview Photo
Willie Mays: My father said to me, "You need a piece of paper to go into a door sometimes." I didn't understand about résumés, but when you write a résumé you have to put down things that people want to know about. Did you finish high school? Did you finish college? He said, "You have to have that piece of paper." I didn't play sports in high school my last two years. In 11th and 12th grade they wouldn't let me play because I was playing professional ball. It was important that I get that piece of paper.

To tell you the truth, I didn't get the paper because, if you remember, I left at my prom and went to play with Trenton, so I didn't get the paper. Somebody had to pick it up for me because I was playing in Trenton. My father kept it. It was very important to my father for me to receive that piece of paper.

You went to class.

Willie Mays: Yes, I went to class every day. In my hometown, where were you going to go? Everybody was in school. If they saw you walking down the street somewhere by yourself and you're not in school, your family would know about it. My father would know if I didn't go to school. The principal would check on you every day. They had a patrol. The truant officer would come by your house to find out why you're not in school, so that was never a problem there. You might be able to get out earlier now and then, but you had to check in. They called roll and you had to answer every day. You might be able to get off of school to practice football, or whatever, but you had to be there at all times.

Were there any books that inspired you?

Willie Mays: History. I remember everything about blacks, things in history that nobody gave the blacks credit for. I began to pick up a lot of things out of these history books. I liked math, because I would begin to deal in money. I began to understand how to count, very quickly. I'm talking about fractions, and how to divide. Certain things would pick up my eye very quickly. I got a really good education for what I needed in the South.

Were you looked up to by other students?

Willie Mays: I didn't say I was that smart, I said I went to class and I enjoyed what I was doing. We had a kid in our school who went to college at 14. I thought that was too young for him to go to college. He was out of college at 18 and into another job. Now that's too fast. Where was his childhood going? I don't think I was looked up to that way. I was looked up to as an athlete. There were a lot of smart kids in my class, a lot of them.

But you were looked up to.

Willie Mays: Very much so. I was the best athlete in the school. That's why the principal wanted me to play high school ball and not professional ball. I said, "No, I want to play professional ball."

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