(left) A baseball magazine cover from the early 1960's, featuring future Hall of Fame Centerfielder Willie Mays (of the New York and later San Francisco Giants) and Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees.) This was in the first era that black players were allowed into the major leagues, striking another blow against America's "color bar".
Both Mays and Mantle dominated their respective teams and positions. Mays (left, b.1931) is generally acknowledged as one of the smartest men to ever play the game, gifted not only with the ability to adjust himself to each pitcher while at -bat, and every batter when he played the field on defense, but also a "five tool" player who could do anything (run, hit, hit-for-extra-bases-power , steal bases, and field well above average) in his prime that needed to be done to win games.
Mantle was also a man of great talent, who had years at the plate with his bat that even exceeded Mays--and everybody else. Born the same year as Mays, they entered the Majors together in 1951. While Mays extended his career to 1973, Mantle's playing days were over by 1968, when all the injuries to his knees and his long record of carousing and drinking with team mates finally caught up to him.
To many baseball fans, there is a long and not always polite argument over which man was the better player. But, at their level of hitting and fielding, it hardly matters to me. I never got to see Mantle play, but I did see Mays when my father and I attended games at San Francisco's Candlestick Park in the late 60' and early 70's. Mays was recognized as a extraordinary athlete. The sad thing was that he never really felt at home in San Francisco as he did in New York City, where he broke into the majors at the Giants original home (before they moved West in 1958) and soon became the toast of the city.
Part of this was that San Francisco fans wanted their own younger heroes to root for (like Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey and the "Dominican Dandy", pitcher Juan Marichal.) Mays had an ego as big as his talents and really couldn't share the spotlight. In 1972 he asked to be traded back to New York and was sent to the New York Mets. His last two years in the game were none too successful, but it hardly mattered; he was already a legend and just seeing him on the field in any uniform brought hope to the hearts of fans.
Centerfield (1985) is a song by John Fogerty, formerly of "Credence Clearwater Revival". It's one of the best songs celebrating the joys of Springtime and the return of baseball to the green fields of American and Canadian ballparks. It also celebrates the Centerfielder, ofcourse, the man (or now woman in softbnall) who is often the best hitter and the fleetest to chase down a fly ball for an all important out. Whether you enjoy the greatest sport ever conceived (baseball) or any sport for that matter, this song will hopefully capture the feeling of playing the game or seeing the best in your nation at the pitch or field of your choice.
This is an exciting time for those who grew up playing the game as I did in pick-up games in the neighborhood and in Little League, Babe Ruth League and high school teams.
Tomorrow is Opening Day in the Majors. It's Spring again and hope for glory in the October World Series is possible for every team booster. Gentlemen, select your bats!