Fifth & Mission: Happy Birthday, Willie Mays

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Food is one of these social and cultural spaces in which we create and reflect who we are there are many people that are undernourished right now that are going hungry and the logger does in the more uncertainty. The harder it is for people to know. How do we survive. You'll hear all that and more on extra spicy food and culture podcast salako. Emmy justin phillips subscribe on apple spotify or wherever you get your pockets. We'll leave as done it again. He has brought the baseball world to a standstill. I'm san francisco chronicle. Columnist heather knight. And you're listening to fifth in mission. Happy ninetieth birthday willie. Mays the beloved former center fielder for the san francisco giants a hall of famer and a san francisco institution to celebrate. I'm chatting with john shea. A chronicle sports reporter and the co author with maze of a book called twenty four life stories and lessons from the say. Hey kid john shea welcome to the podcast. Well thank you. This is a treat. Thanks for coming on fifth and mission. I know you're a regular on giant splash but good to have you on this one as well and the news of the day. Is that san francisco giants legend willie. Mays turns ninety years old on thursday and is expected to celebrate and be celebrated friday night at the giants padres game at oracle park and it will be the ninety year old hall of famers first game since two thousand nineteen. You read a story about willie and his birthday this week. Can you tell me a bit about that story. And what you found out. Well thank you. Yeah ninety i. I everyone i always say what what is it. Fifty sixty ninety ninety. He makes ninety. let good. yeah jeeze. But i've just been blessed. I guess to have this wonderful association and relationships. He calls it a friendship. So i guess i would too with willie mays and i was over at his house to the other day and every time i visit him. It's not fifteen or twenty minutes. It's usually several hours. I wrote the book with him. Co author of twenty four. In which i spend a lotta time with it more than one hundred dollars overall over the course of a few years so this was kind of the same thing where i hang out with them and never really call it an interview. It's always a conversation because We start talking. And then i don't even realize it's an interview and then go back on my tape and i said well you know i. There were some good questions in better answers so The flow is always organic and fluid. Goes where it goes so anyway. From that conversation. I put together a piece that will run in thursday's chronicle which is the birthday. That's today and we have a big spread in fact pages and pages and pages it's really a keepsake this sporting green and we do for some good news. Hey you see a later Twenty twenty we have willie mays. And that's all that matters in life. Guess so the bruce jenkins got osler in and you know what we have dozens and dozens and dozens of short tributes by a whole bunch of people including barack obama george bush and bill clinton and condoleeza rice that i reached out to and when you reach out on behalf of willie mays usually get a reply. And you know. Huey lewis and bill walton in barry warriors in as giants and Own mind so It's it's loaded with great willie. Mays stuff that never been seen before so pick it up. subscribe online at all. So how did he say when you sign this week great. He's just wishes that he'd be able to get to a ballpark because he has not been to a regular season game since two thousand nineteen now he was in scottsdale before the pandemic in march of twenty twenty so he went to plenty of home games. He's always at home games. in the clubhouse hanging out with players managers coaches for office staff and media and he's just always accessible because he doesn't want to be on the payroll and get paid for something he doesn't work for so he makes it a point to always be there now in the past year plus. He hasn't been there because he's been sheltering like a lot of people like a lot of seniors and the great thing is willie. Mays is expected to be at the friday. Homestand opener and that will be willie. Mays appreciation night. I guess i just made that up. But that's what it'll be yeah huge pre-game tribute They'll have a cake. They'll sing happy birthday. He's turning ninety a close circle of friends. you'll see him on the field before the game hopefully That's the plan. So you never know with willie A couple of times where he wasn't even supposed to say a word that peter mcgowan's memorial and berry boxes Number twenty five retirement ceremony. He wasn't on the docket to saving. And next thing you know he's speaking Glorious words of wisdom for ten or fifteen minutes and the game is delayed route. Ten or fifteen minutes who cares. It's yeah you can talk as long as he wants. So how is the past year. been for him. What did he shelter in place. The whole time is he fully vaccinated. What do you know about his pandemic. Yes yes and yes sheltered in place and has been vaccine. Then he's roaring to go he Mrs. being in the clubhouse and that's that's his home but he also you know the world has changed as this story wrote the paper you'll see is Kind of touches on all of that and of course we've lost ten of his best baseball friends. Tim hall of famers have passed since the pandemic the great names hank aaron and bob gibson a whitey floor and lou brock and tommy lasorda and just on and on and on joe morgan. That was real. Hit because young joe looked up to willie raised in oakland. His father took him across the bay to steal stadium. Back in fifty. Eight fifty nine to see willie mays and the next thing joe knows. He's in the big leagues and willie calls him over and said a. Give me a call after the season. Come on and joe's thinking well that'll never happen but thanks a lot and next thing you know. The season ends in willie's call them and say why don't you come over here. You're gonna give me a call us. So i know you're serious at jogos over and spend a whole day and leaves the bags and bags of swag and gear here. You go from willie mays because all this morning goods department stores always gave him a bunch of stuff that he gave rated players and teammates but anyway it was tough because a lot of those people next so much to willie so it was a tough time but the thing with willie mays is always move on. It's okay this happened but let's get a better life tomorrow. And that's been his story knowing where he's come from Outside of birmingham you know the deep south and the jim crow era in what he's become and overcome and you know not not allowing the biggest to get their way and and the here and everything. The jackie robinson heard because he was side by the giants in the minor leagues just three years. After jackie broke the color barrier. So this is a living. Legend epoca icon. Ick figure that. We're lucky to have in san francisco to call our own right. Well let's talk about him as a player. Where would you say willie. Mays sits in the pantheon of baseball. Greats willie mays and there's everyone else i mean that's one way to the greatest oliver all around player in the history of the game and people would say well. What about babe. Ruth and i would say two things about babe. Ruth number one babe. Ruth played during segregation and never faced any minorities of any kind. So even though satchel page was in his prime he never faced them at a regular season game even though oscar charleston. The willie mays before willie mays was in his prime in the twenty s. He never played centerfield when willie. When babe ruth was at the plate in a regular season big league game so he was never able to track down. Maybe a triple that paid So it was limited competition because only white player so by the time willie came along. The game was integrated. It was slow especially in the national league. Where willie played with the dodgers and the pirates and the and the giants and all these other teams and throughout the sixties obviously The baseball was great. Pretty much because african american players In the national league in the sixties ended the secretaries now The second thing. I would say Difference between willie mays and they would say well. Babe ruth pitched and had world series records. It was a great pitcher before it became a great editor. And i would say to that wealth to newspapers in alabama. When willie mays signed with the giants said that willie mays is probably going to be a major league pitcher they actually projected he would be a pitcher in the big leagues because he had such a great art. So i yeah. There are a lot of reasons that willie mays is the greatest overall player. Who ever lived. And i think a majority of the people living today would say the same and he wasn't always a local hero. Can you describe how he was received by fans when he came to san francisco. You're right Nineteen fifty eight. The giants moved west and a lot of people from north beach. You know the italian community a lot of people in the media Beat writers columnists. Maybe we're a little skeptical of this kid coming out who was in his prime and the best entertainer in game. Why because joe dimaggio played centerfield in san francisco at seals stadium. And now mays was gonna come in and do the same. Even though joe hadn't played in the city for twenty years because he was just a teenager with the old san francisco seals of the pacific coast before he became jolt. Joe in the bronx. Well people thought joe was king and willie. You have to prove yourself. Well willie didn't always go four for four with four home runs. And that's what they remember jodi which he didn't but anyway it was a slow For great majority of people accepted him right away. Who wouldn't but it was just intriguing and interesting and amazing to look back and realize that not. Everybody took to him right away. But and short-term it was unanimous everybody loved lanes. We'll be right back. After a short break you can support fifth and mission and the newsroom that creates it by signing up for unlimited chronicle access at sf chronicle dot com slash podcast. And of course he endured racist housing discrimination when he tried to buy a home here in the city in one thousand nine hundred fifty seven. Can you tell me about that. Oh my goodness yeah. He tried to buy a house. November fifty seven moving from new york and he wanted to live wherever the team was. He wasn't gonna just You know move in and rent a place for the summer and then go back to his place new york. Whoever the team was going to go he was going to be established there and that says a lot because you don't always see that with major league players so he found this beautiful home up the hill near friends. Saint francis wood He was one seventy five mira loma and there was like thirty seven grand thirty seven five and bought the house and the owners found out. Well he's black. I'm not going to sell it. San francisco right and the chronicle actually had the story first with the headline and this is what the headline on november fourteenth nineteen fifty seven had across the top of the crop. Willie mays is refused. Sf house dash negro. Wow the what's it was all over the media. Mayor christopher comes by and say well hey if this has any problem you can come down to my neighborhood. You love my place until you know. No no no. I'm gonna stay here at one. Seventy five mira loma. Well why is it not just because willie and his then wife marguerite absolutely love the place but because of the next family who has come in a minority who was going to try to do the same well they would not have the powers willie mays would have and they would be denied. Nobody would write about it right. But because the chronicle did that and all the media outlets in town he became a national story was all over the place well the owner and the neighbors and the realtors everybody buckled. What's the news. Got out once. The negative publicity hit the streets and willie got his house eventually and good for him because he really paved the way for that community for other communities in san francisco you know to to be open to everybody as they should so i mean he was not just a great ball player but showed a united the keeper The you know a hero on many fronts and that's just one example and did he speak out. Generally about race in civil rights issues during the civil rights movement and jackie robinson criticized him for that book he wrote in nineteen sixty four it was normal. History integration baseball and he tried to get all the people black and white from the game of that time to kind of weigh in on their stories and Willie mays and maury wills of the la dodgers would not do it and jackie was critical of him specifically willie in the book and it was hurtful. And it's not that willie. Mays didn't want to do right for himself. For civil rights for african american 'cause at cetera but his father willie mays senior. Willie howard may senior told him. Now you gotta remember jackie from pasadena in a family military didn't negro leagues didn't get to the big leagues so as late twenties College education in multiple superstar. Ucla willie coming from the deep south signs out of high school. And he's he's a center fielder for the new york accent. Polo grounds went in less than a year. So these are different bracket backgrounds in. And it's not like willy's parents stayed together after willie was born but the dad. Maybe a lot more than the mom was there. All the time for for him and raised him and taught him about the game and made sure he had food on his plate and roof over his head and books and a playground and a gloves. And everything like that but Yeah it was It was difficult. It was difficult time but anyway there's so much history involved in willie mays going back. But i spoke with so many people for the for the up from twenty four reggie jackson even hank aaron and maury wills himself who is part of that willie mccovey cepeda a low all. These people have great anecdotes about what really did do for those guys. So well while. Jackie and maybe even hank aaron later in life marched with martin luther king dr martin luther king and an spoke out against racism. Willie did it in his own way in his own way. Meant pulling guys aside you know set set in The by example leadership All that kind of thing so he did a lot of stuff that people didn't know about. That's so. I really dug in on the subject for the purpose of the book that i realized how much he really did do like you. Joe morgan says there's nobody who helped me more than than willie mays. When i was a kid growing up. He said things you know. Make sure you leave the game better than you found it and and be a role model for the next black is coming up and white and black and everybody else just said do the right thing and and willie mays you know. Maybe more than anybody else in baseball. You know it exudes that positive energy to make people be better and racist. Less racist biggest. Be you know less than than what they were. Why would i go to a game as a racist and anti cheer on willie mays and the government looking mayor and so why the hell am. I got racist. You know. and that's when that's what he did. He changed people's minds. Bill clinton told me it's absurd willie. Mays makes absurd to be racist. And how is willie spent his life since retiring from baseball in baseball. Not really retiring. I mean you got kicked out of the game with mickey mantle A few years after he left the game he got inducted into the hall of fame. Nineteen seventy nine and a few days later. Blue and the commissioner kick them out of the game and later Mickey mantle the two greatest players that kicked out of the game. So why well associations with gamblers. While this isn't pete. Rose this is. I worked for the casino. I play golf with the client signed some autographs. And that's it in the contract. That says i can't even gamble. So these are you know crooked. Throw their own games or cricket managers throwing game us a couple of guys without a pension plan because baseball hat allow for nor did they have no big free agency. There was no agency. There were no agents at the time. They were just working for casinos and getting a couple of bucks. So anyway peter ueberroth comes into the game an ex-commissioner first thing. He does is his. Bring those guys back into the game in early. Nineteen eighty-five best. He ever did as commissioner and and That was easy. Pr book are you kidding me anyway. They were in the game and then a couple of years later. Nineteen eighty six spot. Larry the giants brings them back home to the giants because he had been working for. The mets is final team as a player up until the time he was suspended. So for nineteen eighty six until now. Willie mays has worked in the front office as an ambassador The special assistant to the president. Whatever you wanna call it is titled might as well be willie mays and that's all he really need to know at. What would you say. He means today to san francisco into giants. Fans will There's the golden gate bridge. And there's willie mays. I'm sure it's that's the right order though. Might be willie. Mays one and the golden gate bridge too. But i mean the there to people who really cheered more than anybody When introduced at the ballpark. And that's very von's and and willie mays And willie mays obviously Higher octave or two when when things get roaring because shoot very wanted to be willing various. Dad bobby played for the giants in the late sixties and early seventies as as an willie mays mentor him and then years later willie. Mays mentor berry. When berry was going through the tough times just with government hearings and delco and everything like that so it it's a full circle. And i think san franciscans realize especially now. I mean the older he gets shoot. He's always been number. One here is always been the greatest giant ever and you take it further the greatest player ever you know on anything and it's it's just so special that the willie mays around doing the things. He does through his say foundation. He's always helping kids. Willie mays clubhouse Down there at the Hundred the boys and girls club. The i mean there's a cable car twenty four th the statue right out in front. The address of the ballpark twenty four willie mays plaza. I mean he's fingerprints are all over the city and all over that ballpark and You know it's it's it should be and i. It's it's not going away and it will never go away and there's any willie mays scholarship. That's being announced today. Can you tell me about what that scholarship is four. Yeah so Willie mays and the giants and a couple of nonprofits Called live and free and one hundred percent college. Prep they're all in on this and it's it's scholarship program benefiting san francisco. Kids ninth graders Basically black youth living in the city who who You know might not be getting the breaks. Other kids that age are getting and there's going to be five awards every year and it's going to value about seventy thousand per in that class Highschool mentoring and and You know overseeing of all the work with working with the parents to educate them on their roles of getting these kids not only through school but into college and through college Because these these awards include like twenty thousand dollars scholarship so every year. They're going to give away five and the giants you know th they're keeping the door open say maybe one or two or three or all of these kids. One day could be interns and internships with the giants often lead to full time positions with the giant. So anyway it's it's basically helping the community by helping the kids and helping the family making more opportunities for people who ought to get those opportunities but don't necessarily get them unfortunately well as you mentioned before you literally wrote the book on willie mays twenty four life stories and lessons from the say. Hey kid that you co wrote with him. Do you have a favorite story or life. Lesson that you learned from willie mays That's a that's a good one. That's a tough one When i when. I look at all the time i spent with. Willie i i think of a time in which he looked at me and spoke about getting signed by the giants and Reporting to the new jersey. Trenton giants the class. B interstate league as you know nineteen year old high school graduate and like i said this is three years after jackie became dodger so he was here. All the abuse in the in the stands. You gotta remember he wet from the negro leagues. Obviously an all black league to to this to this Interstate league it's called. He was the only minority in the whole league. Not just on his team. So how could that have been. It was just some of these cities. They're going through through the south and willie looked at me and said you know. I don't know at that time if i was going to stick with it and is brought tears somebody. What do you mean not stick with. He said it was too much. And i imagine there's no willie mays imagine there's no bridge bentsen baseball without mazes america without mays and you think maybe going back to birmingham like dad work in the mills plan on. You know maybe return to the negro leagues Luckily for all of us you know. He persevered overcame abuse. He was receiving and and And turn the cheek like his dad told him. Don't say anything. Just just a be strong and move forward and eventually willie mays did say something but in the end he won the biggest lost. And and we're all that much better for it. So i i mean shoot. There's all kinds of lessons about perseverance and and pushing hard and being what you wanna to be in. Every chapter starts with a lesson from willie mays and shoot. I think that's the price of admission right. They're not here to sell books but But anyway yeah lifetime. Experience to hang out with willie mays and to write the book not just about his life. Stories learn about his life lessons. Great well thank you for sharing them with me today. It was fun to talk to you. We'll thanks heather. This was fun. We will have a happy willie. Mays ninetieth birthday happy birthday. Willie happy ninetieth. Thank you to john. Shaffer joining me today to erica carlos for producing this episode. End to you for listening and thank you to willie mays for entertaining san franciscans. I so many decades. Happy birthday in the nineteen seventies in the gay bars of san francisco killer hid in plain sight alert his victims by drawing their portrait and when he had them alone he unleashes fatal rage. They call them the tube. I'm kevin fagan. I've been at the san francisco chronicle for twenty eight years. I've covered serial killers from coast to coast. And this dude. The case really bothers me. The most prolific killer game in in modern history is still walking. Free here the untold story of the dealer wherever you get your podcast.

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