Thursday, April 15, 2010

Willie Mays

I realize that most people read this space because I am a cranky, short-tempered individual who (occasionally) has something to say.

So, if you are looking for a zinger today, look elsewhere. Several weeks ago I read the new biography of Willie Mays. It's called Jim Hirsch’s “WILLIE MAYS: The Life, the Legend” (Scribner). I highly recommended it. Here's why.

Hirsch had access to Mays and his family and the story is well-researched. Equally as important, it doesn't pull punches, describing Mays' childhood in the South, his almost suicidal tendency to work himself into the ground on the field, and several racial/racist experiences he had, particularly in San Francisco.

It's a story of baseball life in a different time and space, although not that long ago. The reason I haven't written about it before is that i wanted to test my reaction on someone else-- in this case my mid-20's aged son, who grew up in an era of (relative) racial enlightenment and who loves baseball. he also loves the book and seems to be reading it as a cultural archaeologist, rather than a baseball fan. I was alive in the 50's-he wasn't. These are different lives and lives that are lost without being reminded of the hard work, rough knocks, separate hotels and downright stupidity of the 40's and 50's in racial America. As always, baseball provides the vehicle for cultural commentary without the author's risking being preachy or moralizing.

Hirsch pulls it off, for both me and my son. Well done, sir.

Here's a link to it on Amazon.

[I am bound by the idiotic rules of the Federal Trade Commission to disclose that I got a free copy of the book from the publisher, in hopes that I would read and comment on it. I was under no obligation to like the book, nor write about it, so take that FTC.]

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