Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

At 62, `Say-Hey Kid' Still Basking in Limelight

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

At 62, `Say-Hey Kid' Still Basking in Limelight

Article excerpt

If the face wasn't familiar enough, the "Say Hey" on the golf shirt was a dead giveaway.

Not that Willie Mays needs any identification to the fans who still flock to get an autograph or a picture, or simply to shake the hand of the baseball legend.

Twenty autumns have passed since Mays closed out his brilliant career with a final World Series appearance as a member of the New York Mets.

He nearly got a chance to tag along once more this year until the San Francisco Giants, with Mays watching from the stands in Dodger Stadium, came up a game short the final day of the regular season.

"I still think we had a tremendous season," said Mays, who signed a lifetime contract before the season as a Giants consultant and part-time spring training coach. "On paper Atlanta was supposed to win this thing big. We played on a par with them the whole way."

Sitting in a Las Vegas hotel suite recently, Mays looked almost fit enough to pick up a bat and glove and go out and help his team down the pennant stretch.

Instead, he was playing designated hitter in a softball game that night for executives of Bally's hotel-casino, a gaming relationship that got him kicked out of baseball for seven years by Bowie Kuhn before being reinstated in 1986.

"I just came here to mess around," Mays said. "I don't play anymore. I can't play anymore."

While he may not be able to play, he can still sign. And that's what mattered most to fans who lined up to get an autograph on one of 500 pictures Mays brought to the game to hand out.

Mays makes no apologies for selling his signature on merchandise monthly on the QVC cable network, or at baseball card shows. He limited fans to one free signature at the softball game to discourage collector sales.

"We're not making these people come to shows or buy the stuff. They do because there is value there," Mays said. "I saw the other day a guy sold one of my golden gloves for $64,000. I remember giving the glove to a museum in New Jersey. This guy sold it for $64,000 and I got nothing."

That Mays' signature is among the most prized of a living retired player is no surprise.

The "Say Hey Kid" is a kid no longer, but at age 62 he remains a popular figure from a less-complicated era - before free agency and player strikes, when players stuck with teams like Mays did for 20 seasons with the Giants.

"The fans seemed to own me when I played, and it's still the same way now," Mays said. "Little kids even come up to me. Their father has told them of me, and they know me through that."

It may be the 660 career home runs, the 3,283 hits or the .302 lifetime batting average that put Mays into the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1979.

But it was the way he played the game, the dashes around the bases, the long drives into the bleachers and the basket catches in centerfield that continue to endear him to fans a generation later. …

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