Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend

From BR Bullpen

Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend (2010) is the authorized biography of Willie Mays, written by James S. Hirsch. Hirsch interviewed over 130 people, read more than 135 books and reviewed more than 4,000 articles and blog posts in compiling his extremely detailed biography. The book traces Mays from his parents to the time of the book's publication, giving a rich look at both the subject's on-field and off-field life, not an easy subject for someone who avoided media attention to a fair degree in his personal life. The story (told in the author's note at the end) of how Hirsch even got Mays to agree to the biography shows the author's persistence.

The book chronicles Mays' career, interactions with numerous managers (from the coddling Leo Durocher to conflict with Yogi Berra) and teammates, charitable works, criticism of him by Jackie Robinson and others for not being vocal enough about civil rights, racism he faced during his life and career, his "love affair" with New York baseball fans and how long it took San Francisco fans to welcome him, his role in breaking up the John Roseboro-Juan Marichal fight and much, much more. Included are things not as familiar from coverage of only Mays' MLB career, such as his being one of the last barnstorming stars, with a chapter devoted to his barnstorming career, or his trip to Japan to play baseball there.

For a book with so many details, by someone who is not a sportswriter, one is bound to find a couple of mistakes of a baseball nature. The author, for instance, notes the ratio of 27 minor league teams per major league team in 1950 and a 6:1 ratio in 1990 and says it was due to expansion. Since the number of MLB teams did not even double in this period, the change clearly had other factors than expansion of MLB squads, such as the declining attendance of minor league teams with the spread of television, something noted elsewhere in the book. He attributes the New York Giants' early 1920s success in large part to Carl Hubbell (who did not join the team until 1928) and Mel Ott (who did not become a starter until 1928). He also says that Carl Furillo averaged an assist every 14 games while having 24 assists, which is not possible in a 154-game schedule.

These few errors should not cloud the otherwise fine work Hirsch did in illuminating Mays' life and career.

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