From the archive: Willie Mays' forgotten last hurrah

There’s a famous final picture from Willie Mays’ career, included in the article above. It shows the aging superstar on his knees during Game 2 of the 1973 World Series after the 42-year-old future Hall of Famer stumbled on the base paths. That day, Mays also made two fielding errors, helping send the game into extra innings with a 6-6 tie.

That’s not all Mays did in Game 2 of the 1973 World Series, though. There was a better moment for him, perhaps the last great moment of his career that came a few innings later in his second-to-last at-bat ever. It doesn’t get talked about much anymore. Maybe it should.

Mays SABR bio notes:

The story of Mays misplaying two balls in center field in the second game of the World Series against the Oakland A’s is always used when the topic is a star athlete who plays too long past his prime. Exhibit B might be Mays’s ultimately harmless stumble on the basepaths in the same game. What is often forgotten is what happened in the 12th inning, when he duped A’s catcher Ray Fosse into calling for a fastball, telling him, “Ray, it’s tough to see the balls with that background. I hope he doesn’t throw me any fastballs.”65 He bounced a Rollie Fingers fastball over the pitcher’s head and into center to drive in the winning run.

“Those kids look up to me,” Mays told reporters after the game, which the Mets won 10-7. “I can’t let them down. They haven’t seen me when I was young. But they expect me to be an example to them. That’s why it makes me feel so great inside when I can come up with a clutch hit.”

Mays played just once more in the Series, grounding out the following day in a 10th inning pinch hit appearance against Paul Lindblad. The Mets would go on to lose in seven games to the A’s, who were in the middle of a three-year championship run.

“No I’m not disappointed I didn’t play,” Mays said after Game 7, with papers noting the end of his career. “I don’t think I’m very good at pinch hitting.”

Technically, Mays might have been right. He entered Game 2 in the ninth inning as a pinch runner for Rusty Staub. Otherwise, Mays was selling himself short, as so many others have done since.

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“From the archives” is a Friday series that highlights old baseball-related newspaper clippings.

Others in this series: Satchel Paige’s shutout inning in 1969‘Is Babe Ruth hurting game?’ | When Mark Koenig pitched | 25 years after Pete Rose, Hal Chase’s story is bleaker | Outrage when the Yankees sold to CBS