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New York Giants head scout and former pitching ace Carl Hubbell described his visit to the Polo Grounds to watch the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League play the New York Cubans as "the day I saw the best goddamn baseball player I have ever seen in my life." Hubbell sensed that the gangly teenager with blinding speed, a whip-like arm, and dynamite in his bat was more than a raw talent--and he was right. The Black Barons' manager and players had made a mission of coaching, grooming, and advising this ferociously capable youngster to take advantage of an opportunity most of them would never have--to play in the major leagues. Willie Mays would not disappoint them.
In Willie's Boys, award-winning baseball writer John Klima sheds new light on the amazing, little-known story of Willie Mays's 1948 rookie season as a professional baseball player. He did not officially join the team until the Fourth of July, so he could finish his sophomore year in high school. In a few short months, Willie, still little more than a child off the field, would be transformed from a phenomenally gifted prodigy into a wily pro whose deep understanding of the game would soon equal his natural ability. He would also learn valuable lessons about how to succeed in the unknown territory of "white folks' ball."
This quintessentially American tale leads you down the long, dusty road of Negro League baseball, a road that would soon reach its end. Drawing on in-depth research and interviews with surviving players, it illuminates the league's last days, explores the heated rivalry between the Black Barons and Buck O'Neil's Kansas City Monarchs, and introduces such legendary players as Artie Wilson, Bill Greason, Alonzo Perry, and Piper Davis. It also breaks new historical ground on how the New York Giants acquired Mays, and why the Dodgers, Yankees, Indians, Braves, White Sox, and Red Sox missed out.
Willie Mays is not the real hero of this book. That honor belongs to Piper Davis, the Barons' player-manager. A great star of the Negro Leagues in his own right, Davis knew that age and his fiery temper would keep him out of the majors. It was Davis who made it his goal to ensure that his affable and awesomely talented protege had the skills, knowledge, and visibility he needed to get his shot at the majors and make the most of it.
Peppered with colorful and amusing anecdotes, such as how Willie acquired the nickname Buck Duck and why the Barons' bus driver earned considerably more money than most of the team's players, Willie's Boys offers a singular and memorable look at a lost era and the making of a baseball legend.