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24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid

Review

24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid

There have been many books written about Willie Mays, but the Hall of Fame ballplayer wanted something different.

According to John Shea, Mays’ collaborator on 24 and an award-winning national baseball writer for the San Francisco Chronicle, his subject said, “I’d like to see this book in classrooms.” Shea goes on to say, “We wanted to write a Willie Mays book unlike any other. No bibliography. No borrowing from old magazines, documentaries, or microfiche. None of the same quotes that have been handed down from book to book.”
 
Mission accomplished.

"The book offers tidbits heretofore unrevealed to the casual baseball reader.... [Mays is] still giving the fans something to cheer about."

Not coincidentally, the book is divided into the same number of chapters as Mays’ uniform, each based on a “life lesson,” such as “Life and Baseball Aren’t Fair: The Story of a Game of Inches” and “Never Give Up: The Story of a 16-Inning Classic.” The formula follows a simple pattern: Mays makes some brief comments, and Shea fleshes them out with anecdotes from fellow players, friends and even ex-presidents.
 
Notwithstanding the current political situation, the further we get away from Jackie Robinson’s breaking the Major League color line in 1947, the more younger readers might have trouble understanding the difficulties faced by Black and Latino players. Throughout the years, Mays has been relatively circumspect when discussing his experiences with racism. He continues that trend here, save for his recollections of trying to buy a house in a fancy neighborhood in San Francisco. He’d rather focus on the positive.

The book offers tidbits heretofore unrevealed to the casual baseball reader. Mays claims that “The Catch,” his defensive gem in the 1954 World Series that is considered one of the greatest plays of all time and is constantly replayed, wasn’t even his best outfield work. One chapter is devoted to incorporating modern analytics to show just where he falls on the list of greats, as if we didn’t already know.
 
24 comes across as a throwback to biographies and memoirs in the days before Jim Bouton’s BALL FOUR, published in 1970. There is no gossip, animosity or the dishing of dirt that we have come to expect --- and even demand --- since then. Instead, Mays is gentle and generous when discussing his relationships with Mickey Mantle and Duke Snider, the two other legendary New York outfielders (the Yankees and the Dodgers, respectively), as well as with teammates and opponents.
 
In 2015, Mays received the Presidential Medal of Freedom, this country’s highest civilian honor. It was bestowed by Barack Obama, who credited Number 24’s experience and accomplishments with instilling within him the confidence to pursue his destiny as the first African American chief executive.
 
Mantle and Snider are gone now, leaving Willie Mays as the sole survivor of baby-boomer baseball legends. He’s still giving the fans something to cheer about.

Reviewed by Ron Kaplan on June 12, 2020

24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid
by Willie Mays and John Shea

  • Publication Date: May 12, 2020
  • Genres: Memoir, Nonfiction, Sports
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • ISBN-10: 125023042X
  • ISBN-13: 9781250230423