When I was researching and interviewing for my ”New York City Baseball,1947-1957, the Last Golden Age,” I naturally attempted to interview Willie Mays. He belonged in the book as one of the great figures in the national pastime in that era. To my dismay I made contact with him and learned he was not interested in being interviewed. He was surly, too.
I found out from other authors and sports journalists that he sometimes could be that way, especially if he did know the person who approached him. I did try a couple of times later to get Willie Mays for an interview for other baseball books I wrote. Same story, Same surliness.
Now there is “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend” by James S. Hirsch, (Scribner, $30.00, 624 pages), a book that proclaims on its cover “Authorized By Willie Mays.” I have never seen that before.
But the book does contain a mother lode of material covering many of the key events in the life and times of Willie Mays – although the territory is covered just as well in other books and with a less fawning approach. There are many interviews with most of the usual suspects (Monte Irvin as always is terrific) and even with Mr. Mays. A good deal of research is evident.
We get the hits and the runs. We get few errors. We get the great over-the-shoulder catch that Mays made in the ’54 World Series, almost eight pages on it although we still do not know much more about “the Catch” from this book than is already a matter of public record.
Ultimately, there’s a lot to like about “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend.” Plenty of baseball stories, lots of insights into his life off the playing field and time spent in various ventures. If you are a fan of Willie, this is the book for you.
For others, you make the call. For after forking over thirty dollars and spending a lot of time going through a book that tallies 624 pages and could have been half that length and worked as well – the man behind “The Life, The Legend” is still not captured in this authorized bio. What we ultimately wind up with is not a home run, but a solidly hit double.
Two interesting New York City sports centered books are "Summers in the Bronx" by Ira Berkow (Triumph, 235 pages, $15.95, paper) and Jeffrey Kroessler's "The Greater New York Sports Chronology" (Columbia University Press, $74.50 cloth, $24.95, paper, 336 pages).
Harvey Frommer is his 34th consecutive year of writing sports books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 40 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history (Abrams, Stewart, Tabori and Chang) was published in 2008 as well as a reprint version of his classic "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball." Frommer's newest work an oral and narrative history of Fenway Park will be published in 2010.Frommer sports books are available direct from the author - discounted and autographed.FROMMER SPORTSNET (syndicated) reaches a readership in the millions and is housed on Internet search engines for extended periods of time.