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The Willie Mays Ball: Baseball History Down the Drain?

November 7th, 2018 · No Comments · Baseball, Dodgers

I was perhaps 9 or 10 when we visited some relatives of my mother’s in the Bay Area city of Richmond. Just across the water from San Francisco.

We went there every few years, and I was always a little agitated by it, because I didn’t really know these people, not like my aunts, uncles and cousins down in Long Beach.

They were a childless husband and wife, as I recall, and the woman was a fairly near relative of my mother. They seemed old to me, so maybe they were in their 40s?

And I remember all this because of one salient factor:

The Willie Mays Ball they gave us.

They would have known that us kids — or at least me and the elder of my two brothers — were baseball fans.

And we, as Dodgers fans, of course knew all about Willie Mays and his team — the San Francisco Giants. Arch-rivals of the Dodgers.

So, as I recall … our hosts presented me and my brother with a baseball. A hardball. Like they use in the big leagues.

I am fairly confident they gave it to us and said, “This is a ball Willie Mays hit for a home run.”

I believed it, at the time, but I was less enthused than I would have been a few years later.

In my hand, it was a sort of discolored hardball and I would not have had the wit to check to see if it was autographed by the National League president, which I think was going on back then. The league president’s name on the ball. Let alone Willie Mays’s autograph.

I wasn’t aware enough to ask the basic questions: “What team did he hit the home run against? Who was pitching? How did the ball come to you? And it was a home run and not just a foul ball, or something?” No proofs of any sort, that I recall.

So, we said “thanks” and took the ball home with us to Long Beach.

I recall my mother suggesting we be careful with the Willie Mays Ball. If it was legit, it was one of 660 balls Mays hit for a home run. By a guy who was No. 2 on the all-time homer list, there for a while, behind only Babe Ruth.

The ball got stuck on a shelf somewhere and sat for a stretch of time.

Eventually, and perhaps this was an inevitability, because the idea of the Willie Mays Ball was burning in my mind. Not unlike the poor creature Gollum and the One Ring, in The Lord of the Rings.

It should never have been used. But it was.

I have the vague memory of perhaps having lost a previous ball … or maybe I just wanted to throw around a real baseball. Generally, we played with a regular-size nine-inch ball that was mostly rubber and weighed significantly less than a real MLB ball.

But we took it outside, and we played catch with it, and I was old enough to know that our errant throws were scuffing the ball, and that was not good — but it was still the Willie Mays Ball.

We tossed it and tossed it … and then one of us made a bad throw, and the ball was in the street in front of our house … and we scooted after it … and then it rolled down the gutter and fell through the 4-5-inch slot between the sidewalk and the street — that led down to the sewer line, maybe 4-5 feet below the street.

We knew this was bad. We were on our hands and knees peering at the ball, and perhaps we could see it. Perhaps not.

Either way, we did not know how to fetch the ball. It was not reachable. We would have needed some sort of special tool. Maybe a rake? Probably would not have worked. Or we would have had to go to an adult and have him pry off the manhole cover, which is a heavy slab of iron, and lower himself into the sewer line to fetch our ball.

We didn’t do it. We pondered the situation for a bit, decided we could not handle it ourselves but also did not want to reveal ourselves as having sullied the Willie Mays Ball — and then lost it down the gutter.

And I bore the chief responsibility. I was the older brother. I was clearer on the alleged special-ness of the ball.

Eventually, my mother asked me about it. Where was the Willie Mays Ball?

Did I come clean? Probably not, because it was such a lame thing to do. We had been warned. We didn’t even like throwing and catching such a hard and heavy thing, because it hurt our hands to catch.

I probably said it was in the garage somewhere.

So there went the Willie Mays Ball.

As I got older, I occasionally thought about that ball, and wondered it were real. I could almost see the relatives buying it at a pawn shop, for example. Or offering a friend money to buy the ball. Anyway, somehow getting the ball, and gifting it to us boys on the night of our visit.

Maybe I could have authenticated it, and maybe it was possible, if we had been smart enough to ask.

I was never quite sure it was a home run ball, because my mother’s relatives were not young, and I could not imagine them catching a homer while sitting in the bleachers at Candlestick Park.

But maybe it was a ball Mays had hit. A foul ball, maybe. Maybe it had a connection to one of the best dozen players in baseball history.

It might have been worth something. Or it might have just been a ball our Richmond relatives had, maybe from a Giants game? And they gave it to us.

We will never know, of course.

Whatever ball it was … it went down the drain and, presumably, on out to the sea, and perhaps it lies there still.



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