Say hey: the autobiography of Willie Mays, by Willie Mays and Lou Sahadi; Simon & Schuster.
If you half-expected Willie Mays to trot along one of these days and write a kiss-and-tell autobiography, you were half right.Mays has authored a 277-page kiss, a smooch of Polo Grounds proportions. Yes, "Say Hey: The Autobiography of Willie Mays" is just an anecdotal bear-hug of baseball from a man who spent 22 years as the game's foremost honey-dripper.
No astrologers allowed. No cheap shots at the ex-boss, no lurid tales of wild parties that melted the wallpaper in this country's finest hotels. No torching the myths surrounding America's folk heroes.
Say Hey is rated PG-13.
"There's not a lot of controversy in the book," Mays says. "If you have to have controversy to sell a book like that, I don't want sell a book like that. I wasn't looking for that, and I don't think the fans are looking for that."
Not Mays' fans, anyway.
Mays' fans, I think, will breeze through Say Hey in nostalgic euphoria. Co-author Lou Sahadi, who is kind of a sports autobiography manufacturer, has in effect given us everything Topps couldn't fit on the back of a bubble-gum card - with pictures.
"Honesty," Mays says. "the book is about love and honesty."
From its praise of father figure Leo Durocher to its replay of Mays' magnificent moments to its discussion of his career's aftermath, the book represents more than just how Willie Mays would like to remembered.
It represents his want to be remembered.
Yes, it has been a decade since his enshrinement in the Hall of Fame, 15 years since he last played, in the Mets-A's World Series of 1973. That's a generation of young fans reared in an era of largely fat contracts and sassy egos. It is an era during which a utility infielder can sell an autobiography if he throws enough dirt at his teammates.
Mays gently lectures on ballplayers' financial gains - and their inherent dangers - late in his book. But true to his spirit, he refuses to be resentful or critical or even particularly wistful.
He is a businessman, and since the May 23 release of his book, that business principally is being Willie Mays. This week at a hotel in Beverly Hills, I am not disappointed.
"I had a love affair with baseball," he is saying, folding his massive arms and smiling as if this afternoon's doubleheader were baseball games, not back-to-back interviews. "That's what I lived for."
Mays says Say Hey will appeal to different readers in different ways.
History buffs can devour background on the old Negro Leagues. Highlight-film devotees can read, just one more time, about the catch he made on Vic Wertz's long fly in the 1954 World Series (and the one or two others he thought were better). And sociologists can shake their heads at those racial remarks that led to Alvin Dark's firing as Giants manager - comments that the team was in trouble because it had so many "Spanish-speaking and Negro players" who lacked "mental alertness." Sound familiar? That was 1964.
But Willie Mays' story also may give you one morose feeling: It's a shame baseball isn't forever.
"All through my life, I've had somebody to help me. I had to, because I was so wrapped up in the game," he says. "I do a lot of things now because I know what people have done for me over the years.
For that reason, Mays is encouraged by the growing trend among youngsters to play college baseball - and to get an education - rather than to begin chasing big-league dreams as teenagers.
"I wish I'd had the opportunity to go to college four years and then turn pro," he says. "I think that would have helped me on the financial end. At 43, I'd have had options."
Such advice you will not find on the back of a baseball card.