Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Say `Hey' to Jackie Ex-Giant Mays Pays Homage to Robinson

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Say `Hey' to Jackie Ex-Giant Mays Pays Homage to Robinson

Article excerpt

Willie Mays sat in the New York Mets clubhouse Sunday before their 4-2 victory here over the Giants and pronounced himself "blessed." Then he traced his blessing back to one human being named Jack Roosevelt Robinson.

"Without Jackie, I wouldn't have gotten out of Birmingham," said one of the greatest baseball players ever.

In this 50th anniversary of Robinson's debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers, everybody wants to pay tribute. The Mets are planning a celebration at their April 15 game against the Dodgers, complete with video highlights of Robinson's life. Mays feels so strongly about his old opponent that he made a special trip to the ball park Sunday to talk about Robinson. They played for baseball's two greatest rivals, the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants, but they had something much more important in common. "They knew Jackie was hard-headed, and they said, `You give us two years and we'll give all your friends a chance,' " Mays said. "If he had gotten in a fight within those two years, it would have been all over." Maybe yes, maybe no, but it certainly seemed that way at the time. The hopes of every young black athlete were riding on Jackie Robinson that April. "Don't forget Larry Doby," Mays cautioned. "Larry came right after J ackie in the American League. From what I hear, Jackie had Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges and Ralph Branca, but Larry didn't have anybody." It is a little unnerving to an old Brooklyn fan to hear Willie Mays speaking with such reverence for the Dodgers, but Mays says that is exactly what it was like in 1947. "We all rooted for the Dodgers," he said. "From the day he signed, I knew I had a chance to play major-league ball. When I got married, my wife was a Dodgers fan." By the time Mays came up, four years after Robinson, the worst of the racial slurs had vanished, at least from the dugouts. "And I had Leo," Mays said softly, referring to the fiery Leo Durocher, who had previously managed Robinson. "Leo took care of me. A lot of people took care of me. "For a while we couldn't stay in the same hotels. We'd get to Chicago, we'd get off on the South Side, they'd get off on the North Side. …

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