Say Hey: Willie Mays and “The Catch”

Say Hey

On September 29 in 1954, Willie Mays made one of the greatest and most famous catches in baseball history.  During the eighth inning of Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, Cleveland Indians player Vic Wertz hit a drive that centerfielder Mays chased toward the wall of the Polo Grounds to make an over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track.

“The Catch” prevented two runs from scoring in a tie game.  Mays’s throw also kept the runners from advancing.  And the Giants went on to win the game in the tenth inning.  Then, the team completed a sweep of the World Series.  The win was the Giants’ last championship in New York.

The Season

Mays’s catch and the Series helped cap a great season for Mays.  During the year, he hit 41 home runs and led the league with a .345 batting average.

What makes the season even more amazing is that Mays had not played Major League Baseball the previous season or for most of 1952.  Mays, who started his professional career in the Negro Leagues, had his rookie year in Major League Baseball in 1951 after a short stint in the Minor Leagues.  But in May 1952, the United States Army drafted Mays during the Korean War.  He missed most of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season, although he did play some baseball while in the Army.

“Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)”

There is another reason 1954 was a big year for Willie Mays. Early in the season he became a part of one of the greatest baseball songs of all time, “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song).”

When Mays returned from the army, a New York public relations man, Ted Worner, thought it would be a good idea to have a song about the player known as the “Say Hey Kid.” So Worner arranged for columnist Dick Kleiner to write some lyrics and then for Jane Douglass create the music and the chorus.

Epic Records liked the song and gave it to the R&B group The Treniers, but insisting that Mays participate in the recording. Mays agreed, and he ended up adding some dialogue to the song. Quincy Jones produced the recording.

“Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)” did not become a hit that summer, perhaps because it had to compete with at least three other songs about Willie Mays. But like few other baseball songs, “Say Hey” would live on as one of the most popular baseball songs of all time.

Say hey, say who?
Say Willie,
That Giants kid is great.

Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Happy Opening Day!
  • Early Baseball: The Glory of Their Times
  • Hammerin’ Hank
  • The Babe Ruth Story (and Funeral)
  • The Chaos of Disco Demolition Night
  • New Footage of 1919 “Black Sox Scandal” World Series
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    Early Baseball: The Glory of Their Times

    Early Baseball After Ty Cobb died on July 17, 1961 in Georgia, Lawrence Ritter realized that the full story of early twentieth century baseball was dying with the people involved in the game during that era. So, he came up with the idea to document that era of baseball and began a trip across the United States interviewing many of the legends of the sport.

    Ritter published the first edition of The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It in 1966. The book included interviews with men like Sam Crawford, Joe Wood, Fred Snodgrass, Chief Myers, and others. Other players, like Ty Cobb, were not around to be interviewed but they are brought back to life through the stories of the men who knew them.

    I discovered Ritter’s work when I was a child and happened to catch a documentary he made of The Glory of Their Times, which was produced by him and Bud Greenspan in 1977. The documentary used audio from Ritter’s interviews, accompanied by photographs and film. I loved the movie. I even recorded it with my childhood hand-held tape recorder and listened to the cassette over and over again.

    I have not seen the documentary since I was a child, and it does not appear to be available on video (and I have since lost the cassette). But in 1966, Ritter did release a record that included audio of many of the interviews that he used in his book and that appeared in the documentary. Fortunately, it is available through YouTube. It is a fascinating look at another era. Check it out.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Say Hey: Willie Mays and “The Catch”
  • Hammerin’ Hank
  • The Babe Ruth Story (and Funeral)
  • The Chaos of Disco Demolition Night
  • New Footage of 1919 “Black Sox Scandal” World Series
  • Jackie Robinson Takes the Field
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    Hammerin’ Hank

    I Had a Hammer Henry Louis Aaron was born in Mobile, Alabama on February 5, 1934. Hank Aaron went on to become one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  Still, the first memory of the man that usually comes to mind is one swing of the bat on April 8, 1974.

    Aaron had started his professional baseball career with the Indianapolis Clowns of the Negro American League in 1951. Aaron experienced the effects of racism during that time and throughout his career.  He endured, though, to became a hero to many people.

    Breaking Babe Ruth’s Home Run Record

    While playing for the Atlanta Braves late in his career, Aaron received a large amount of racist hate mail.  The mail came in response to his approach to Babe Ruth’s all-time home run record of 714 home runs.

    Aaron ended the 1973 season with 713 home runs.  On the cusp of the record, he endured various death threats in the off-season. Many others, though, voiced their support for The Hammer.

    Aaron persevered.  He hit home run number 714 on April 4, 1974 in his first at-bat in the 1974 season.  That home run came in Cincinnati off Reds pitcher Jack Billingham.

    Then, back in Atlanta on April 8, 1974, the 40-year-old Aaron came to bat against Los Angeles Dodger pitcher Al Downing.  This video shows what happened next.

    After Breaking the Record

    After his famous home run in 1974, Aaron continued to play baseball.  He continued to follow the motto that helped him through tough times: “Always keep swinging.”

    And, on May 1, 1975, now a Milwaukee Brewer, Aaron broke baseball’s all-time RBI record. Babe Ruth had held that record too.

    On July 20, 1976, Aaron hit his 755th and final home run.  Aaron’s record stood until Barry Bonds broke it on August 7, 2007. Despite the controversy about Bonds’s alleged used of steroids, Aaron graciously appeared on the JumboTron in the San Francisco Giants stadium to congratulate Bonds.

    Since his playing days, Aaron has worked as an executive with the Atlanta Braves, run his own business, and helped others through his charitable work. In 1990, he published his excellent autobiography, I Had a Hammer, which I listened to as an audio book years ago.

    In 1982, Aaron was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. His election came with one of the highest vote percentages ever. But by then, he had long been enshrined in our hearts.

    Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Happy Opening Day!
  • The Babe Ruth Story (and Funeral)
  • New Footage of 1919 “Black Sox Scandal” World Series
  • Jackie Robinson Takes the Field
  • It Wasn’t Easy: Sonny Brown’s Home Run
  • South Atlantic League Inducts Bill Murray Into Hall of Fame
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    The Babe Ruth Story (and Funeral)

    Babe Ruth Funeral

    The great baseball player George Herman “Babe” Ruth, Jr. passed away on August 16, 1948 at the age of 53. Ruth, who was born in Baltimore on February 6, 1895, died from cancer, which had been diagnosed two years before his death.

    Ruth’s Funeral

    After Ruth’s death, his body lay in state at the entrance of Yankee Stadium (“The House That Ruth Built“) for two days.  During that time, fans lined up to pay their last respects.

    This video shows people lined up outside Yankee Stadium to Ruth one last time. It also includes scenes from Babe Ruth’s funeral, as well as some archival footage of the Sultan of Swat. Check it out.

    Ruth Movies

    In the month before Ruth’s death, Allied Artists released a bio-pic about the slugger, The Babe Ruth Story (1948), starring William Bendix as Ruth. Many critics have called the film, which includes scenes of Ruth healing sick children (a legend parodied by John Candy on SCTV), one of the worst movies of all time.

    Regarding The Babe Ruth Story, people also note that the film could not even get little things right.  For example, Bendix plays baseball as a right hander.   Ruth was a lefty.

    But if you watch The Babe Ruth Story with the right attitude and do not expect a realistic biography, you might have some fun. You can check out the trailer below.

    Perhaps Ruth was so larger than life and so well known that it is difficult to make a good film about him.  Like The Babe Ruth Story, 1992’s The Babe — with John Goodman in the title role — generally received poor reviews.

    One of my favorite Babe Ruth movies was not really about Babe Ruth. Pride of the Yankees (1942) tells the story of Lou Gehrig’s career through the discovery that he had amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), what became known as “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”

    In Pride of the Yankees, Gary Cooper pays Gehrig and Ruth plays himself. What I always admired about Ruth’s self-portrayal is that he took part in a scene that makes Gehrig look much better than he does.

    In the scene, Ruth visits a sick kid surrounded by reporters covering his visit. Then Gehrig visits the kid in private, showing his sincere concern and promising to hit two home runs for the child during the 1928 World Series. Reportedly, the Gehrig incident never took place and is loosely based on when Ruth promised a home run during the 1926 World Series to a hospitalized boy.

    The movie’s version of the story makes Ruth look bad in comparison to Gehrig. But his generosity in playing the scene in tribute to his former teammate says a lot about the The Bambino as a person. Unfortunately, that scene is not available on Youtube (although another scene featuring Ruth is available on the Turner Classic Movies website).

    Baseball would not be the same had Babe Ruth not come along, and there will never be another one like him. Thanks Babe.

    What is your favorite Babe Ruth story? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Hammerin’ Hank
  • Gary Cooper’s Three Oscars
  • Harold Ramis: The SCTV Years
  • Take the Baseball Movie Quote Quiz!
  • Limitless Barry Bonds in the Asterisk Nation
  • Say Hey: Willie Mays and “The Catch”
  • (Some related Chimesfreedom posts.)

    The Chaos of Disco Demolition Night

    Disco Demolition Night On July 12, 1979, the White Sox hosted Disco Demolition Night at Comiskey Park. The promotional event, however, resulted in chaos and a forfeited baseball game.

    The once-popular music seemed to stir a lot of anger at the time. Even songs were written attacking disco. As many others have noted, the disco-hating trend of the late 1970s evolved out of a number of emotions.  Some of the hate came from those who consciously or subconsciously attacked the music out of racism and homophobia.

    In retrospect, it is hard to imagine how a type of music went from being so popular to being so hated. In fact, the White Sox had hosted a “Disco Night” in 1977, only two years prior to the 1979 Disco Demolition Night.

    The Disco Demolition Night Promotion

    It is also surprising in retrospect that nobody foresaw how Disco Demolition Night would be such a disaster. The entire idea was based on hatred of something, culminating with blowing up something (records) between the two games of a double header with Sparky Anderson’s Detroit Tigers.

    Steve Dahl, a morning DJ for rock station WLUP-FM, was on a campaign against disco music. As part of his campaign, he helped come up with the idea for the baseball promotion where he would blow up disco records on the field.

    Dahl’s animosity was both deep and personal.  He had lost his job at WDAI-FM on Christmas Eve in 1978 when that station switched to an all-disco format.

    As part of the promotion for the game, the cost of entry was 98-cents and a disco record.  Thus, there were many in the sold-out crowd who were not there for baseball.

    After the chaos, Dahl was surprised at the crowd’s reaction.  But the notoriety of the event would help make him a dj superstar in Chicago.

    This website hosts memories from folks who were at the stadium that night. And below is a short video about Disco Demolition Night.

    The Effects Today

    Regarding baseball, the event went into the record books.  The unplayed game between the White Sox and the Tigers is the last American League baseball game to be forfeited.

    Regarding the music, others have noted that while disco was dealt a blow, it lives on successfully today in various forms such as house music. You can try to kill music with hate, but it will survive.

    Do you remember Disco Demolition Night? Leave your two cents in the comments.

  • Say Hey: Willie Mays and “The Catch”
  • Early Baseball: The Glory of Their Times
  • Hammerin’ Hank
  • The Babe Ruth Story (and Funeral)
  • New Footage of 1919 “Black Sox Scandal” World Series
  • Jackie Robinson Takes the Field
  • (Some Related Chimesfreedom posts.)