Hailing Mays, anticipating Bonds
Saturday, Feb. 22
SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — At about 12:35 p.m. local time Saturday, the pulse of the Giants began beating a little louder and faster.
That’s when Willie Mays returned for his annual Spring Training visit.
Mays, the greatest Giant of them all, needs no introduction. Certainly not here, definitely not among Giants fans and especially not in the San Francisco clubhouse, where seemingly everybody — from rookies to veterans, from reporters to team employees — suddenly wore a smile just because an 82-year-old walked into the room.
An exultant Mike Murphy, the venerable equipment and clubhouse manager, reveled in Mays’ presence. Crowed
Murphy, “Spring Training’s complete now! Willie’s here!”
Drawn to Mays as if the Hall of Famer were magnetized, Angel Pagan was the first player to greet the legend. Pagan, the current heir to Mays’ center-field throne, sat with the master for several minutes as they conducted an earnest conversation.
More Giants will approach Mays in the coming weeks. Or at least they ought to. Widely renowned as the
quintessential five-tool player, Mays possesses wisdom that would help any ballplayer. Even pitchers can benefit from talking to Mays. He, as much as anybody, knows how a formidable hitter should be set up, having been one himself.
This is a man with more to offer than a handshake or an autograph.
Mays’ godson, Barry Bonds, surely will command attention when he serves his first guest-instructor stint with the Giants next month.
Say what you want about Bonds and whether he used performance-enhancing substances. The man prompts
widespread respect among contemporary ballplayers. He’ll find numerous would-be pupils eager to hear his hitting philosophies. And as for the steroid stuff, Mark McGwire broke the ice by becoming a full-time batting instructor. Bonds, baseball’s all-time home-run leader, is a potential asset.
As is the case with Mays, Bonds’ singular skill makes him valuable. As many of you can recall, he frequently received only one pitch to hit in any given game. He often drove that single pitch over the outfield wall. Bonds knew, and presumably still knows, exactly what kind of swing to put on a pitch to hit it effectively.
The Giants should hope that Bonds brings his attitude with him. A former hitting coach for a National League team (not the Giants) recently told me that his role was “to make sure that each hitter feels tough when he finishes batting practice.” The coach actually used a much more colorful term than “tough.” But you get the idea. Bonds almost always played and hit with a swagger that insisted, “I’m better than you.” Conveying that mindset to the Giants’ hitters will help them considerably.
— Chris Haft