Connect with us
BSM Summit
blank

BSM Writers

HBO’s ‘Say Hey, Willie Mays!’ Doesn’t Document Legend With Enough Depth

If only this film had been made 10 to 15 years ago when Mays could have been a more active participant in telling his story.

Avatar photo

Published

on

blank
Image via HBO Sports

Ask any baseball fan who watched Willie Mays on the field during the 1950s and 1960s and they will likely say he was the greatest to ever play the game.

Even those too young to have watched Mays play would acknowledge his greatness upon seeing career numbers like 660 home runs, 3,293 hits, two National League Most Valuable Player awards, NL Rookie of the Year honors, 12 Gold Gloves, and 20 All-Star Game appearances. Modern fans who prefer advanced metrics to quantify excellence can see that Mays rates as the third-best player of all time in Wins Above Replacement (WAR).

Regardless of how familiar diehard or casual fans may be with Mays’s career achievements, both would surely agree that his catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series is iconic. Mays running down Vic Wertz’s drive to the Polo Grounds’ deep center field with his back turned toward home plate, making an over-the-shoulder catch is arguably the best defensive play in baseball history.

So maybe director Nelson George (Magic Johnson: The Announcement) didn’t believe that he had to spell out exactly how great a ballplayer Mays was. Yet his documentary Say Hey, Willie Mays! (premiering Nov. 8 on HBO) feels like it doesn’t quite convey Mays’s impact on baseball and sports in general.

The film provides plenty of visual evidence of the Hall of Famer’s talent, packed with archival footage showing Mays at the plate and on the field. We see photos of his early days in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Black Barons, when Mays was still in high school and learned from “Piper” Davis, who became a mentor. But George also employs actors to re-enact Mays in action, a nice touch to make young Willie Mays come to life.

Especially amusing are appearances Mays made on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Donna Reed Show, which demonstrated the star’s affable personality and his acceptance into mainstream culture despite usually being the only Black person on the screen. Yet that celebrity profile also glossed over the racism and division Mays had to deal with as a Black man growing up in Alabama in the 1930s and 1940s, and as a very public figure in New York during the 1950s.

The Black community in Harlem was protective toward Mays when he played for the New York Giants, providing whatever he needed at the Red Rooster nightclub while making sure he went home at a reasonable hour in order to be rested for the day’s next game. That was quite a contrast to what Mays faced in San Francisco when the Giants moved there following the 1957 season.

One of the most compelling parts of the documentary shows a San Francisco that wasn’t as progressive regarding race and social issues as it is now. Despite being a star athlete and a national celebrity, Mays and his wife Marghuerite dealt with resistance when they wanted to buy a house on the affluent Miraloma Drive.

Among other intriguing revelations, Mays was not initially embraced by the city’s fandom because of another native baseball star. Additionally, the new Candlestick Park was constructed in an ill-conceived, extremely windy and cold location that may have actually affected Mays’s career numbers.

However, these developments also highlight the documentary’s major flaw. We don’t hear enough from the man himself. How did Mays feel about being forced to move from New York to San Francisco? How did the racism he faced in trying to buy a house he could easily afford affect him?

George repeatedly explains that Mays followed the advice of his mentors and kept his feelings about racism to himself while trying hard to be a peacemaker amid prejudice and tensions. That drew criticism from many who preferred the outspoken activism of Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown.

Jackie Robinson sharply rebuked Mays for not using his platform to speak out, saying ““It’s a damn shame he’s never taken part.” But the film also makes sure to include defenses from Latino teammates and fellow Black ballplayers who insist Mays welcomed and stuck up for them, even if he didn’t protest publicly.

In fairness to George, Mays is 91 now. Maybe he’s no longer capable of the introspection — or the energy it requires — that would’ve made this documentary shine. Outtakes during the credits show that Mays still has a wicked sense of humor, which hints at what could have been. If only this film had been made 10 to 15 years ago when Mays could have been a more active participant in telling his story.

Say Hey, Willie Mays! really tries, however. Powerhouse producers like Colin Hanks, LeBron James, and Maverick Carter obviously believed that Mays deserved a documentary like this. George includes many interviews with contemporaries like Reggie Jackson, Orlando Cepeda, and Juan Marichal, along with media including John Shea, Jon Miller, and Bob Costas to tell us how great Mays was.

Perhaps the best testimony comes from Mays’s godson, Barry Bonds, who grew up idolizing his father’s teammate. Strangely, the film also seems to link Mays’s legacy with Bonds, which feels awkward given how he boosted his performance to surpass his godfather’s career home run total on his way to setting all-time records. But maybe it’s intended as a link from the past to the present. Letting others define Mays for us might be the best we get during this golden age of sports documentaries.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Say Hey, Willie Mays! premieres Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. The documentary will also stream on HBO Max and be available on-demand, in addition to repeat airings on HBO networks.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Barrett Blogs

BSM’s Black Friday SALE on BSM Summit Tickets is Underway!

Jason Barrett

Published

on

blank

Each year I’m asked if there are ways to save money on tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit. I always answer yes but not everyone takes advantage of it. For those interested in doing so, here’s your shot.

For TODAY ONLY, individual tickets to the 2023 BSM Summit are reduced by $50.00. Two ticket and four ticket packages are also lowered at $50 per ticket. To secure your seat at a discounted price, just log on to BSMSummit.com. This sale ends tonight at 11:59pm ET.

If you’re flying to Los Angeles for the event, be sure to reserve your hotel room. Our hotel partner this year is the USC Hotel. It’s walking distance of our venue. Full details on hotel rooms can also be found via the conference website.

Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Does The Return of Bob Iger Mean to ESPN?

Demetri Ravanos

Published

on

blank

Demetri Ravanos has questions about Disney going back to the future with Bob Iger. This entire episode of Media Noise is all about what the change at the top of the Walt Disney Company indicates about the future of ESPN.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

Continue Reading

BSM Writers

Media Noise: What Is Realistic For FOX at the World Cup?

Demetri Ravanos

Published

on

blank

On this special holiday edition of Media Noise, Demetri Ravanos dives into the controversy and criticism surrounding FOX’s coverage of the World Cup in Qatar.

ITunes: https://buff.ly/3PjJWpO

Spotify: https://buff.ly/3AVwa90

iHeart: https://buff.ly/3cbINCp

Google: https://buff.ly/3PbgHWx

Amazon: https://buff.ly/3cbIOpX

Continue Reading
Advertisement blank
Advertisement blank

Barrett Media Writers

Copyright © 2022 Barrett Media.