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Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  2,220 Ratings  ·  161 Reviews
Willie Mays is arguably the greatest player in baseball history, still revered for the passion he brought to the game. He began as a teenager in the Negro Leagues, became a cult hero in New York, and was the headliner in Major League Baseball’s bold expansion to California. He was a blend of power, speed, and stylistic bravado that enraptured fans for more than two decades ...more
Kindle Edition, 640 pages
Published (first published February 9th 2009)
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Brian Eshleman
Jan 26, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fcl
I was even more impressed on my second read through. Hirsch seems to understand the contours of the character of Willie Mays as they carry him through different phases of his life. Hirsch also displays a particularly adept understanding of the times Willie Mays lived through and the ways in which his subject was magnified and challenged by the culture that impacted him.
Jason Koivu
May 19, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, sports
A strong and well-constructed biography of one of the first black men integrated into the majors in early 1950s America, and more importantly to the man himself, one of the best players and nicest guys ever to play the game. Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend encompasses a great deal of this monumental and yet utterly humble man's life as well as the times he lived it in prose that is at times lyrical - especially when it comes to describing baseball - but which is at all times throughout the boo ...more
Barnabas Piper
Jul 23, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's closer to 4.5 stars - a really excellent biography. Hirsch does a wonderful job balancing Mays the legendary ballplayer and Mays the enigmatic man. I never knew about the tensions Mays experienced throughout the civil rights era, and Hirsch lays out that story wonderfully as well. Mays always captivated me as a historic, but sort of shadowy baseball legend. This book told his story in rich detail and narrative.
May 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have always felt extremely lucky that I grew up during what is probably certain to be baseball's "golden age" - after World War II, but before television was widely available in most homes. In the summers, we played baseball all day in our neighborhood - boys and girls together - and then listened to baseball on the radio in the evenings at home with our families and friends. EVERYONE talked about baseball, knew the players, knew the scores, kept the stats. Even in school, our teachers "treate ...more
Feb 19, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Feb 27, 2010 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: franklin-library
My previous knowledge of Willie Mays was limited to the once-over given him in grade-school history books: he was an African-American who overcame racism in the national pastime and became a Great American Figure: a catalyst of social change who just happened to play baseball. Hirsch is more thorough, but hardly less adulatory -in the other extreme. This ponderous volume flirts constantly with hagiography. Hirsch paints Mays not as the Great African-American Hope (apparently, he was actually acc ...more
Jul 23, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I’m of two minds concerning this book.

The first is that it’s great and makes me a little sad. James Hirsch’s biography on Willie Mays captures the magic of mid 20th Century baseball. Pitchers pitched whole games, nobody had heard of steroids and games were an action packed two hours. People mostly heard games over the radio and players were people you’d see walking down the street.

Baseball mysticism aside, this book was kind of boring. Hirsch spends 500+ pages on Mays with another 100+ pages of
May 29, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: baseball
James Hirsch did his best. He tried his hardest to shine a light on a player notorious for being closed off and inaccessible. I have no qualms with the writing, which was very well done, and the research and anecdotes are top-notch. But I have no idea what Willie Mays felt or feels about anything. The racism he must have endured growing up and all through his playing career? We know he did virtually nothing in response, but did he really not have any strong feeling about the injustice? Or should ...more
Jul 17, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's stunning to think that, as important he is as a baseball player and as an American icon, there has never been a biography written about Willie Mays. For people who actually read my book reviews, you will note that my summer reading kick has included some sports biography. The last book I posted on was a life of Henry Aaron, and, although I didn't know a great deal about Mays at the time, the one troubling thing I found was the author's need to "dog" Mays to promote Aaron (something Aaron hi ...more
Luke Koran
Apr 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Before I even dreamt of picking up this book, I surprisingly knew very little about Willie Mays, who is widely regarded as the greatest overall player in the history of baseball. As a growing baseball historian, I knew I had (and desperately wished) to start learning about the "Say Hey" kid, and fast. I began when I was putting my baseball card collection together, where I looked at May's statistics - both career, year-by-year, WAR, and defensive value - and read numerous publications that ranke ...more
Sep 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: adult-nonfiction
I'm often skeptical of authorized biographies, but this one won me over as I moved along through it. It's sympathetic to Willie, but Hirsch is upfront about all of this. The book is thoroughly researched and is a comprehensive study of Willie's life not only on but off the field. Hirsch doesn't shy away from reporting on Willie's money troubles, his problems with his first marriage, his problematic relationship with Jackie Robinson, and his sometimes prickly dealings with the press. But it's all ...more
Feb 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone who wants to know greatness
Willie Mays was my third childhood hero, right behind Curious George and Batman. In our games of streetball (or drivewayball), I willingly ceded any right to "be" Willie to Anthony McBride, who was a year older and infinitely more athletic than me. I was perfectly content to "be" Bobby Bonds. Hence, it was a long time before I nerved myself to pick up this tome, and it was only because I found a $10 hardcover copy at Housing Works that I wound up purchasing it, and carried it around the East Coa ...more
Feb 18, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like to start each baseball season by reading a baseball book, and it's hard to imagine a better baseball hero to read about than Willie Mays. This book was a thorough life story, starting with his childhood in Alabama through his time in the Negro leagues, on to his brief minor league experience -- and then of course the story of his remarkable major league career with the Giants and Mets.

Willie Mays has always been something of an anomaly -- a public figure with a very private personal life.
Jan 06, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Eric Mikulan
Ms. Brooks and Ms. Sims
English Book Review
7 January 2013

For my non-fiction book I read the book Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend by James S. Hirsch. This book tells of the story of Willie Mays life from growing up in Alabama to becoming a Major League Baseball player. The book tells of May's struggles as he got drafted out of high school as he grew up in a time of great racism. His struggles continued as he began to play in minor league baseball in Minneapolis. Due to the great ra
Paul Pessolano
Apr 12, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Willie Mays. The Life, The Legend” by James S. Hirsch, published by Scribner.

Category – Sports/Baseball Publication Date – February 09, 2010

“The Catch” was made by Willie Mays in the 1954 World Series, and there is no other “The Catch” in any other sport, that includes football.

The story of Willie Mays goes far beyond the sport of baseball, although baseball was his life and he gave everything he had to the sport. The era of Willie Mays saw not only great changes in baseball but also in politic
David Lucander
A fun read about someone I always revered but never knew much about (I'm 34), but this book really could have been shorter - especially considering that The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks and The Radical King give compelling stories with about half the page count.

I really feel like I got to know Mays, the same way I felt about Sam Cooke after Dream Boogie: The Triumph of Sam Cooke, and I appreciated what Hirsch had to say about Mays and his times, but this was just...a...little...long. If I
Feb 22, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: african-american
The first comprehensive authorized biography of Willie Mays, the greatest centerfielder of all time, was worth the wait. Hirsch examines all of Mays' playing years as a Giant and a Met (sigh), while looking at his rise to stardom in the context of the civil rights movement and his childhood growing up in the Deep South and playing in the Negro Leagues. It also delves into his relationships with coaches and other players, including the temperamental but fatherly manager Leo Durocher and Jackie Ro ...more
Jan 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the few biographies of the great Willie Mays and the only one written with his support (thus "authorized"). the book is a very detailed look at the Say Hey Kid's life and times. i believe that Mays is the greatest baseball player of all time, and not coincidentally, the greatest NY/SF Giants player of all time, of course. reading through the description of his playing career was fascinating for me, as i never got a chance to see him play in real life. i found it a bit odd that the ...more
Chris Munson
Anyone that knows me knows that I have a passion for baseball. So, I often try to read something baseball related. I also like to read about great people. Recently, I saw that Willie Mays and I shared the same birthday and I saw this book in the bargain bin. Willie Mays definitely had an interesting life. From his time in the Negro Leagues to his debut in the major leagues, Willie's story shows what you can overcome if you work hard, never give up and are surrounded by supporting and loving peop ...more
Mar 17, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A pretty decent biography, but it kind of made me wonder if I really needed to read this. There was some cool stuff about traveling teams and civil rights stuff, but in general, there wasn't too much surprising.

I guess I just feel that while I really like Willie Mays, I don't know if his life was really full of enough interesting things to fill a multi-hundred page book. And I get to thinking this about a lot of people I admire. Kurt Vonnegut is my favorite author, but after Dresden, did anythin
The full life at 557 pages. Covers in detail his two years in the negro leagues and 22 years in the majors. Hirsch is good on race relations and portrays Mays as an arch conciliator, seldom taking offense and always seeing the other guy's point of view mainly because this was his personality. This caused trouble with more combative types like Jackie Robinson. I wasn't aware of Mays' difficulty in buying a house in San Francisco in the late 50s nor about the Giants' racial problems which Hirsch b ...more
Apr 08, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I grew up watching Willie Mays playing with the New York Mets, and was delighted when I learned he was a hero for the SF Giants too, the team I now follow. Reading this book was a perfect way to sustain my love of baseball during the off season. I learned how being a Mets fan and a Giants fan makes sense. I learned about the roots of baseball in New York. I learned about the horrific prejudice that Mays and other African-American players endured. I learned how and why Willie Mays was an Extraord ...more
May 05, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
If you love baseball, if you love America (but then I repeat myself) you will love this book. I learned about one of our greatest athletes and about the America in which he lived: Alabama in the 30s up through a new America in the 90s. "Say Hey" Willie's beginning as a "colored" (a non pejorative term) boy in Alabama helped make those changes by his character. I think a reader would almost...almost, have to like baseball to truly love the book as I did, but Hirsche's well writen biography certai ...more
Tricia Gabel
Jul 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i don't care one little bit about baseball but still found this fascinating!
Bill O'driscoll
Nov 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Exhaustive bio of arguably the greatest baseball player ever. A few things stuck with me. Baseball was only young Willie's third best sport. AFter he graduated high school, there was a period of a few week that literally any team could have signed him -- including both the Pirates (he could have played most of his career alongside Clemente) and the Braves (ditto for Hank Aaron, with a mere 1,400 homers between them). Why didn't they? In 1951, baseball still had an informal quota system for black ...more
Sep 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book brought back fond childhood memories of collecting baseball cards (I had his card and many of the other greats mentioned in the book!), watching the Saturday Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean and Pee Wee Reese (so many great stories), and trying to catch the Yankees in the evening on my AM radio. Mickey Mantle was my favorite player BUT when the All-Star game was on, you knew Willie Mays was literally going to steal the show. From my perspective, early 60's to today, he was the greatest ...more
Sep 20, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I really liked this book, this book tells about Willie and all the cool experiences he had while trying to get to the MLB, and what it was like being there. Willie Mays is one of the greatest baseball players to ever live in this book it shows you how he played like a winner. Also it tells you about all the troubles he went through as a child and what he had to do. He is with out a doubt the best defensive baseball player ever to live on the earth. I recommend this book to anyone who likes baseb ...more
Jan 18, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Overlong in parts, but a really interesting and compelling read about one of the most important and dazzling baseball players who ever lived. Hirsch does a reasonable job at trying to be honest with some of Willies flaws, but for the most part this is a book whose purpose is to chronicle the legacy of Mays' life.

Tremendously minor and pedantic quibble: Hirsch choose to go with "Mays's" throughout the book instead of "Mays'," which drove me the tiniest bit batty.
Mar 23, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For those who never got to see him play—an ever-growing segment that now includes a couple of generations of fans—the legend of Willie Mays is built on grainy film of "The Catch" in the 1954 World Series, maybe a shot or two of him zipping around the bases, and numbers like 660 (home runs), 338 (stolen bases), and 2,062 (runs scored). We accept his greatness because it's always been there, a standard for the heroes of our times to be measured against. He shows up on any credible all-time all-sta ...more
Brent Soderstrum
Dec 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
I am a big San Francisco Giants fan. Willie Mays was a little bit before my time. He was in his Mets days when I was a kid. This book is a very through biography covering Mays life and career. Willie is a really shy and talented man. He doesn't give many interviews so this book, which he authorized, is probably the most complete guide on the man.

It covers his youth, his parents, his sister who really raised him, his negro league days and then it covers his baseball career year by year in through
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