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In Appreciation of Willie Mays...

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You know what joke never gets old? Pretending that Buster Posey and/or Tim Lincecum are some variety of comic book or mythological hero. At least, I hope it’s not getting old. I use it once a week. I’m sure it’s perfectly fresh!

And, yes, Lincecum and Posey are fan favorites for good reasons. They’re award-winning, homegrown players who arrived with six tons of hype and then built on it. They were the battery for the first World Series winning game in the city’s history.

That’s our benchmark. That’s what it’s like for us to be in awe of a Giants player. It’s hard to imagine it getting any better.

 

Sometimes, when I’m feeling especially nerdy, I just stare at the Willie Mays page at Baseball Reference. If he had put up those hitting numbers while playing left field like Pat Burrell, he’d still be an inner-circle Hall of Famer. But he didn’t. He played a better defensive center field than anyone we’ve ever watched. We’ve marveled at the range of Andres Torres, but Mays would have pushed Torres to left, and it wouldn’t have been a debate

Mays was always among the fastest players in the league. Think Darren Ford ... with Albert Pujols’s bat. That’s the only way I can think of it, really. Even though Ford can’t hit, you can tell he’s different from most of the other players when he runs or fields. Now give him Albert Pujols’s bat. Oh, and a plus arm.

That was Willie Mays. I think, at least. The only way I can imagine him is to take the best features from the best hitters, base runners, and fielders and mash them all together. Yet I know it still doesn’t do him justice. It’s like describing the Beatles as "Buddy Holly meets Radiohead" -- it not only completely misses the point, it’s useless in describing what the experience is really like, no matter how earnestly you try to find a comparison.

There are a lot of things that make me proud to be a Giants fan. A beautiful ballpark. The legacy of Hall-of-Famers. A rich history. Not being the Dodgers. But the thing that makes me most proud is that Willie Mays is ours. He still shows up at the park. He messes with the rookies in the clubhouse. It’s hard to watch a lot of Giants baseball without constantly remembering that that guy used to play for the team.

Once this flux capacitor is working, my Delorean’s first stop is at the Polo Grounds to watch him play. And after about 18 years, I’ll take it back in time to watch him do it again. Happy 80th birthday, Willie Mays. I can only imagine what it was like to watch him play, and I'll always regret that.