One name: Willie Mays
As I write, the Yankees just left San Francisco and Ken just landed in Boston on a red eye, leaving behind the home of the Giants, where his all-time favorite baseball player – Willie Mays – played most of his career.
“He was a great all around player,” said Ken of the center fielder. “He was exciting, he made the right plays at the right time, was a great home run hitter, a tremendous fielder, and a great base stealer and base runner.”
In Cooperstown in 2007, when we attended Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn’s inductions into the Hall of Fame, Ken and I bumped into Mr. Mays several times during the infamous weekend, once in the gift shop where we snapped this photo that caught Ken in an excited mode to meet and greet his favorite player.
The two had played against each other when Ken first arrived in the big leagues as a New York Met in 1970. In the first expansion of baseball to the west coast, the Giants moved to San Francisco in the late ’50s, as did the Dodgers. That broke the heart of Ken’s dad Joe – he never got over it.
Years later, the face-to-face interaction with Mr. Mays clearly thrilled Ken.
“If I had a ball, I would have asked him to sign it,” he said, admittedly apprehensive and a bit nervous at the time. “I asked to take a picture together but I didn’t want to be all over the guy, knowing how that feels.”
Mr. Mays said he remembered Ken as a player, and asked if he was still doing TV. “Which I thought was nice,” said Ken. “When I was a youngster, he was the man. He couldn’t do anything wrong. I remember when the Giants moved.”
Yet as a fan back then it was hard to follow the Dodgers and Giants. Communication wasn’t nearly as effective as today.
“There was no Direct TV to watch every game,” said Ken. “People back east wouldn’t find out game results until the late edition of the newspaper.”