In his wondrous career Willie Mays hit 660 home runs. On Monday, he hits 60.
Could it be - the "Say Hey Kid" a senior citizen?"I manage to keep busy," Mays says. "I enjoy working with the kids in spring training. Guys like Kevin Mitchell."
In a lot of ways, Mays will always be a symbol of carefree youth for America. His electricity carried far beyond the baseball field, too.
"Willie does everything with a flourish," actress Tallulah Bankhead once said. "He has the spectacular . . . a theatrical quality. In terms of my trade, he lifts the mortgage five minutes before the curtain falls."
How special was Willie Mays?
After he hit his 535th home run to become the all-time leader among right-handed hitters, umpire Chris Pelekoudas shook Mays' hand as he crossed home plate.
Yes, Mays had all the fancy numbers to make the Hall of Fame on the first try in 1979. But it's not the numbers he's remembered for. It's his twisting line drives, his daring dashes around the bases and his neat basket catches in center field.
When he was inducted into the Hall of Fame after a 22-year career with the Giants and Mets, Mays was asked who was the best baseball player he ever saw.
"Me," Mays replied without giving the question a second thought.
"He could do everything," said Leo Durocher, Mays' first major league manager in 1951. "Joe DiMaggio is the only player I've seen who could do it all. Willie was a natural."
Maybe it was because Mays had so much talent that some could hardly watch in his final days with the Mets.
"Perhaps I stayed a year or two too long," he says. "But it was great coming back to New York and getting a chance to play in the World Series one more time."
The Mets acquired the 41-year-old Mays from San Francisco in May 1972, and in his first game for New York he beat the Giants with a home run at Shea Stadium on May 14.
The next season, the Mets won the National League pennant and Mays was back in the World Series for the first time since the Giants lost to the Yankees in 1962.
But this wasn't the same Willie Mays. He stumbled to his knees getting out of the batter's box and had trouble seeing the ball in center field. There was some gray in his thinning hair and the uniform was tighter than usual around the hips.
It was hard to believe this was the same player who made one of the best catches in World Series history. Who was that guy out there in center field, anyway? It looked like the scene out of "Damn Yankees," when the devil came to collect Joe Hardy's soul.
In the 1954 Series, Mays made his famous over-the-shoulder catch in straight-away center field at the Polo Grounds to rob Cleveland's Vic Wertz of extra bases. After catching the ball about 460 feet from home plate, Mays whirled around, lost his cap, and unleashed a perfect throw to the cutoff man. It was the kind of play that Willie's fans hoped would last forever, even though they knew better.
After his retirement in 1973, Mays kept busy with a real estate business, public relations jobs and coaching for the Giants in spring training. His title now for San Francisco is special assistant to the president and general manager.
But Mays was meant to play baseball. He learned to deal with life after the cheers stopped, but you get the feeling he never much cared for it. Old-timers games were never designed with Mays in mind.
What does a living legend do in retirement? Some become coaches, some become broadcasters and some sell coffee makers. Most become memories on a baseball card.
The end for a major leaguer, whether superstar or super sub, is difficult and getting harder all the time.
"The social aspects were different when Willie and I played," fellow Hall of Famer Ernie Banks said. "It was before strikes, free agency, million-dollar contracts, the influence of the players association."
Mays was born on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Ala., a mill town just outside Birmingham. He grew up in the neighboring town of Fairfield, where he starred in several sports in high school and played sandlot baseball with his father, a former outfielder in the pro Negro League.
"I played baseball from the time I got up until it got dark," Mays said. "I never got tired of it."
"I never saw a player with so much natural ability," Durocher said. "I would have paid to see Willie Mays play baseball."