Wednesday, July 18, 2012

TSN cartoon helped Mays to majors

Some of the earliest publicity that Willie Mays received in the national sporting media appeared in the May 23, 1951, issue of The Sporting News.

There was a large cartoon montage by famed sports cartoonist Murray Olderman on Page 27 of that issue.

On the following page, in the section devoted to American Association news and box scores was a short article . . .

Mays Amazes Miller Fans,
Hits .607 on Home Stand
            MINNEAPOLIS, Minn.—Willie Mays, young Negro flychaser, enjoyed one of the most productive two weeks at bat ever experienced in O.B. during Minneapolis’ first home stand, which ended May 13.
            In 14 games, the Miller rookie tagged opposing pitchers for 34 hits in 56 times at bat—a .607 pace. Mays drove in 13 runs during the span, and 13 of his blows were for extra bases—eight doubles, one triple and four drives over the Nicollet Park wall.
            Mays failed to connect safely in only one of the 14 contests, while on three occasions he had a perfect record at bat, once with five hits and twice with three.

On May 24, the Giants called Mays up to New York. At the time he had a 16-game hitting streak going, having batted .567 since the skein began on May 6. It was later said that the TSN article, and particularly Olderman's cartoon, had brought Mays to the attention of Giants' owner Horace Stoneham and precipitated his call-up.

 On the Sunday following Mays preferment, Stoneham made a conciliatory gesture to the Minneapolis fans by taking out a large ad in the Minneapolis Tribune to offer this explanation . . . 

            “We feel that the Minneapolis baseball fans, who have so enthusiastically supported the Minneapolis club, are entitled to an explanation for the player deal that on Friday transferred Outfielder Willie Mays from the Millers to the New York Giants.
            “We appreciate his worth to the Millers, but in all fairness, Mays himself must be a factor in these considerations. On the record of performance since the American Association season started, Mays is entitled to his promotion and the chance to prove that he can play major league baseball.
            “The New York Giants will continue in our efforts to provide Minneapolis with a winning team.”

At the time Mays was promoted, the Millers were in third place in the American Association. With their leading batter gone, Minneapolis quickly dropped to the middle of the league's standings, and ended the season in the second division, 17-1/2 games out of first place.

Mays’ promotion to the major league was judged costly not only to the Millers’ pennant hopes, but also to ticket sales throughout the American Association. One official of the Milwaukee Brewers told the New York News that Mays’ absence was a $250,000 loss  to the league.

In his 35 games with Minneapolis, Mays had batted .477.

When he joined the Giants, Mays was given #14. He took his famed #24 when Jack Maguire went to the Pirates on waivers May 28.
Giants’ fans must have wondered what was going on, however, when Mays went 1-for-26 in his first seven major league games—a .038 average. (His first big league hit came on May 28, a home run off Warren Spahn of the Boston Braves.)
In his next 10 games with New York, though, Mays was 15-for-37, a .405 average, bringing his batting mark up to .254.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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