Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend
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Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend

3.6 49
by James S. Hirsch

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The “enormously entertaining and wide-ranging” (Seattle Times) authorized, definitive, New York Times bestselling biography of Willie Mays, the most complete baseball player of all time.

Willie Mays is arguably the greatest player in baseball history, still revered for the passion he brought to the game. He began as a teenager in

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The “enormously entertaining and wide-ranging” (Seattle Times) authorized, definitive, New York Times bestselling biography of Willie Mays, the most complete baseball player of all time.

Willie Mays is arguably the greatest player in baseball history, still revered for the passion he brought to the game. He began as a teenager in the Negro Leagues, became a cult hero in New York, and was the headliner in Major League Baseball’s bold expansion to California. He was a blend of power, speed, and stylistic bravado that enraptured fans for more than two decades. Now James Hirsch reveals the man behind the player.

Mays was a transcendent figure who received standing ovations in enemy stadiums and who, during the turbulent civil rights era, urged understanding and reconciliation. More than his records, his legacy is defined by the pure joy that he brought to fans and the loving memories that have been passed to future generations so they might know the magic and beauty of the game. With meticulous research and drawing on interviews with Mays himself as well as with close friends, family, and teammates, Hirsch presents a brilliant portrait of one of America’s most significant cultural icons.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Willie Mays had everything—except a first-rate biography. That omission has now been addressed by James S. Hirsch, who has produced a piece of artistry worhty of Mays in center field."—Bloomberg.com

"James Hirsch has written an enormously entertaining and wide-ranging biography—a fitting tribute to Mays . . . and a thoughtful account of the complex and often misunderstood man. . . . True baseball fans will delight in the author's edge-of-seat game reports and picture-perfect descriptions of Mays' superlative talents. . . This is a superb baseball book, but it's also a riveting narrative of Mays' life and times."—Seattle Times

"A terrific new biography . . . [an] always engaging and enlightening book . . . A wonderful introduction to the magical life of one of the finest athletes ever."—San Francisco Chronicle

"Hirsch has produced a masterful biography that has the same freshness and excitement that Mays generated as a player. All the highlights are there in shining, solid detail. It's a must-read for any baseball fan."—Tampa Bay Online

"James S. Hirsch compellingly recounts Mays' career . . . giving even Mays' iconic moments, such as 'The Catch' in the 1954 World Series, a sense of tension as if they were unfolding anew. . . . Great baseball reading, by an accomplished writer . . . about a wondrous ballplayer and man with gifts beyond the diamond."—Associated Press

"The book, documenting Mays’ rise from Negro leagues star to major league icon, also serves as a history lesson."—USA Today

"Tautly written . . . Mr. Hirsch captures Willie’s greatness on the field.”—Wall Street Journal

“Does a better job than any book before of getting at what it means to be Willie Mays.”—Sports Illustrated

Publishers Weekly
The legendary outfielder remains an idol in this starstruck authorized biography. Journalist Hirsch (Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter) makes Mays “the savior” of the floundering Giants franchise, celebrates his “supernatural” power, speed, and fielding chops and his godlike physique; toasts his “innocence and joy,” abstemious lifestyle, and kindness to children; and credits him with stopping a San Francisco race riot with a public service announcement. Hirsch is more restrained about his subject’s darker side, his financial difficulties and his often cold and prickly personality. He barely mentions Mays’s use of amphetamines, which he does not connect to the athlete’s frenetic on-field demeanor and recurrent collapses and hospitalizations for “exhaustion.” Hirsch is more incisive on the racial tensions roiling a fast-integrating baseball during Mays’s career, and on the shift to a faster, more aggressive style of play that Mays helped inaugurate. The author is at his best probing the strategy and mechanics behind Mays’s feats of fielding and baserunning; his detailed exegeses of individual plays, including an epic account of the over-the-shoulder catch in the 1954 World Series, reveal just how much art and science went into being Willie Mays. In Hirsch’s admiring portrait, Mays is certainly awe inspiring, but also remote and a bit impersonal. (Feb.)
Library Journal
Although this is an authorized biography, Hirsch (former reporter, New York Times; Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter) performs his task admirably, producing a strong, even important work. Hirsch portrays Mays as a baseball genius and an artist, albeit with imperfections making him capable of mistakes on the diamond and missteps in his personal relationships. Hirsch deftly interweaves biography and baseball tales with historical context, showing changes in the national scene, particularly involving race. Hyperbole only occasionally mars his judgement of Mays, whose feats were truly remarkable. The graceful centerfielder was certainly among the game's most brilliant players, even after nearly two years of military service, returning to the New York Giants for their World Series championship run in 1954. Hirsch's analysis of Mays is astute, with repeated references to startling defensive plays—"The Catch" in the 1954 series being simply the most famous example—and heads-up running on the base paths, and, of course, masterstrokes at the plate. VERDICT Hirsch's biography deserves a place alongside the work by top chroniclers Roger Angell, Bill James, Roger Kahn, and Robert Creamer. Highly recommended for all baseball fans.—R.C. Cottrell, California State Univ., Chico
Kirkus Reviews
An admiring-at times even worshipful-portrait of one of baseball's greatest players, whose on-field exploits were astonishing but whose inner life remains largely hidden. On the first page, former New York Times and Wall Street Journal reporter Hirsch (Cheating Destiny: Living with Diabetes, America's Biggest Epidemic, 2006, etc.)-who wrote a bestselling biography of boxer Rubin Carter (Hurricane, 2000)-compares the body of Willie Mays to "Michelangelo's finest work" and notes later that his "best catches seemed to be guided by some divine spirit." Fans of Mays will no doubt applaud such effusions, but they signal that celebration is higher on the author's agenda than critical analysis. Mays's Hall of Fame career was indeed marvelous. Born in Birmingham, Ala., in 1931, he endured the Jim Crow South, thrived on the baseball field and then left for greener outfields. Hirsch discusses how he learned baseball's fundamentals from his father, mastered his unique "basket catch" (in the Army), got the nickname "Say Hey Kid," rocketed through the minors, debuted with the New York Giants in 1951 and quickly became baseball's dominant star and its most exciting player-for decades (he played into his 40s, ending his career with the Mets). The author attends well to those most celebrated Willie moments: "The Throw," "The Catch," the four-homer day, the bare-handed catches, the daring base running, the dramatic hits, the peacemaking during base-brawls. But he also portrays a man who had difficulty with personal relationships and with intimacy-a failed first marriage, a need for pampering managers. Other black athletes-most notably Jackie Robinson-chided Mays for lassitude during thecivil-rights movement, and others wondered why he did not support Curt Flood's lawsuit. But Hirsch remains an apologist, and Mays's 40 years of retirement are relegated to a 30-page epilogue. Well-researched and fluid, but tendentious and tunnel-visioned. Author tour to Birmingham, Ala., Boston, Los Angeles, Phoenix area, New York, San Francisco, St. Louis. Agent: Todd Shuster/Zachary Shuster Harmsworth Literary Agency

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Product Details

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6.00(w) x 8.90(h) x 1.70(d)

Meet the Author

James S. Hirsch is former reporter for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of four nonfiction books, including the New York Times bestseller. Hurricane: The Miraculous Journey of Rubin Carter, which was the basis for the film of the same name starring Denzel Washington. Hirsch is a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and has a master’s degree from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas. He lives in the Boston area with his wife, Sheryl, and their children, Amanda and Garrett. Born and raised in St. Louis, he remains a diehard Cardinal fan.

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