cover image Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend

Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend

James S. Hirsch, . . Scribner, $30 (628pp) ISBN 978-1-4165-4790-7

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.)