Baseball's Greatest Living Player, is Also the Greatest Player to Ever Play the Game!
(Psst....He's Also A Black Man)
By Don P. Hurley
Contributing Editor

Willie Mays

I wrote a story many years ago when my brother Harry's web site was in it's infancy. The story was entitled:  "The Case For Willie Mays, The Greatest Player Ever"!
Since I was very young, I always made it a point to keep a copy of everything that I had ever written. This was an old habit I picked up from Thomas Jefferson, who I had learned at a very young age had said, "people should write each other often, and they should maintain a copy of what they write".
I say all of this, because of all the stories I have ever done, this is the only story that I have ever desired to rerun. It is one of the few of my writings that I have never again been able to locate. 
It was within my case for Willie Mays, wherein I established him, in my opinion, as the greatest baseball player who ever lived. I have been looking for the story ever since.
I have been very fortunate to have been able to spend a great deal of time with "The Say Hey Kid" through the years. I watched him, and worked with him during a variety of appearances and shows throughout the late 1970's through the 1990's.
I learned a lot about Willie. For instance I discovered how fond he is of Police Officers in general, and how kind he has always been to me in all the encounters I have had with him. He has such a reverence for the Police and an appreciation for all that they do.
I found this to be true of many of the players of his generation, who relied upon the police to help get them through all of the craziness and areas that go with their super-stardom.
I can not say the same for most of the players of today, many whom seem to have only a fondness for money, as opposed to a love for the game that the players of days gone by had.
As I am writing this, I had initially set out to attempt to revisit my story from years ago. I had intended to recreate, to the best of my memory, the statistics, the abilities and accomplishments that documented Willie Mays as the greatest player ever.
But the thought of trying to reinvent that wheel demoralized me a bit. And was while I was thinking of this, that it occurred to me that Willie is finally referred to as "The Greatest Living Baseball Player".
This "Honorary Title", however, did not find it's way to Willie until 1999, and with the passing of Joe DiMaggio, "The Yankee Clipper".
Truth be told, Willie Mays was the greatest living player when Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, or even my all-time favorite player, Mickey Mantle, were still alive.
While I believe that Willie has always been the greatest living player, I do not believe that America was ready then for the greatest living, or greatest player ever, to be a black man.
So, I suppose that as we had approached the beginning of the 21st century, and candidly after the passing of DiMaggio, who else was left to place ahead of Willie Mays?
Stan Musial is certainly one of the greatest pure hitters of all-time. He is also thankfully still alive and well, however he's not the greatest living ballplayer either.  
Fortunately we have come far enough that a person of color can finally be recognized for the history of his accomplishments in the game. So there is really no one left for the keepers of all records to place ahead of Willie, again.
Longevity has a way of working things out, I surmise. If you are able to last long enough, I suppose it forces people to finally see the inevitable truth of matters, and recognize even the most obvious of things.
So, in the end, who had better tools? Speed, Power, Hitting, Fielding and base running ability? These are the five tools that all of the greatest baseball players are measured by. Is there any one of them that can measure up to Willie Mays? I don't think so.
Willie Mays was so great, that even the most famous "catch" in World Series history, where he robbed Vic Wertz of an extra-base hit to centerfield in 1954, that changed the course of the series, has been described by Willie himself as "probably only my third greatest catch".
Will anyone ever forget when Willie ran full steam towards the wall in centerfield, and caught that smash over his shoulders in the famous Mays bread-basket style, while simultaneously performing a pirouette and throw to the infield in one motion?
All that was left for "The Say Hey Kid" to do was replace his cap, which had fallen from where it was cocked on his head, as only Willie Mays could wear, and wait for the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series for the first time since 1933.
Willie was undeniably cool. He was probably too cool, in an era when it was not cool for a black man to be so cool.
While I hope to one day be reunited with my original story about Willie, (which Willie promised he will autograph for me when/if I do), I am happy that my search for it prompted me to update things a bit.
The  experts finally agree that Willie Mays is our greatest living baseball player.
And so it just happens that the now recognized greatest living ballplayer, who in my opinion is the greatest player who ever lived too, happens to be a black man.
I guess we have come a long way when finally it is the skills and talents of a man, and not color, being the final arbiter. Say Hey!
Don P. Hurley

February 3, 2006