If you subscribe to the theory that Willie Mays was the greatest baseball player who ever lived, consider “Say, Willie Mays!” extra ammunition for barroom arguments, as well as lots of fun. Throw in the fact that the 91-year-old Giants all-star lends his voice to the proceedings, and it’s a solid HBO documentary for anyone who loves the game, with one glaring flaw.
A winner of 12 Gold Gloves, a 660-homerun slugger, an appearance in a record 24 All-Star Games and a recipient of President Obama’s Presidential Medal of Freedom, Mays was hailed as “the most impressive baseball player to ever play.” While Dodgers announcer Vin Scully marveled at Reggie Jackson, “”Most of us were absolutely blown away by his overall ability.”
Raised mostly by his aunts after his parents separated, Mays came out of segregated baseball before the Giants pulled out of the Negro Leagues. Mays immediately wowed fans and was widely accepted by White America, so much so that director Nelson George could insert clips of her inappropriate appearances into sitcoms like The Donna Reed Show.
At the same time, he criticized Mays for his unwillingness to talk about civil rights, eventually accusing pioneer Jackie Robinson publicly that Mays – “not outwardly political,” as Bob Costas puts it – was “only looking out for his own safety.” like a big star.” This was true despite the racism Mays himself had experienced, having initially been denied the opportunity to buy a home in an upscale San Francisco neighborhood.
In addition to the pleasure of hearing Mays’ reminiscences, George uses the format to reward his on-field exploits, dissecting feats like Vic Wertz’s legendary over-the-shoulder fly ball catch from every angle imaginable during the World Series. . “Say Hey” also deals with baseball-based trivia, the ill-chosen location of San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, where high winds blew balls that would otherwise have been homeruns, nullifying Mays’ statistics.
So where is the mistake? Among those interviewed, Mays’ son, Barry Bonds, is noted as having played a key role in bringing Mays to the Giants in 1993. However, while Bonds’ reflections on Mays’ talent prove to be welcome, they are conspicuously absent from the steroid scandal. It tarnished Bonds’ records and that has kept him and others out of the Hall of Fame, an asterisk-worthy void if ever there was one.
That aside, “Say, Willie Mays!” it’s a treat to help baseball fans get over the postseason, giving Mays his to take a bow while he’s still around. It’s a tribute to baseball fans who saw him play before he hung up that gold glove nearly 50 years ago, and maybe even more to those who didn’t.
“Say hello, Willie Mays!” premieres November 8th at 9pm ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a Warner Bros. It is a unit of Discovery.