SIOUX CITY | Sioux Cityan Phil Carlin on Monday tells me the source of his passion for the San Francisco Giants.

It starts with Hall of Famer Willie Mays, the greatest living baseball player and the most famous of all Giants.

"Willie Mays was called to the major leagues while sitting in a theater in Sioux City," Carlin says.

True story. Sioux City maintains a tie to "The Say Hey Kid," the man who hit 660 home runs, collected 3,283 hits and appeared in 24 All-Star games. Look for Mays as the World Series, featuring the Kansas City Royals and the San Francisco Giants, unfolds this week.

I imagine he'll throw out the ceremonial first pitch during one of the games in San Francisco, where Mays, 82, continues to serve the Giants organization as a special assistant.

Sixty-three years ago Mays was a 20-year-old center fielder for the Minneapolis Millers, the Triple-A minor league affiliate of the Giants, a major league team that, at that time, was based in New York City.

The Millers played a three-game series in Milwaukee, then traveled to Kansas City for another three-game set. On the way back to Minneapolis, the Millers stopped in Sioux City for an exhibition game against the Sioux City Soos, a Class A team attached to the Giants organization.

One report noted that Mays was originally slated to play for the Soos after graduating from high school and signing with the Giants in 1950. However, it was reported that Sioux City's manager at the time, Hugh Pland, hadn't integrated the Soos.

Mays, who is African-American, was sent to the Giants' Class A team in Trenton, N.J., instead.

After hitting .353 in 1950, Mays earned a promotion to Minneapolis. He scorched the American Association that spring, hitting at a robust .477 clip while swatting eight home runs and driving in 20 runs though 35 games.

The Journal's then-sports editor, Alex Stoddard, primed locals for their chance to see the phenom in action on May 24, 1951, in an exhibition against the Soos.

"One of the top treats for Sioux City fans ... will be the opportunity to get a gander at the sensational Willie Mays, Negro outfielder, who has been slamming the ball at a near .500 pace for the Millers," Stoddard wrote for the newspaper.

But, alas, it wasn't to be. Mays was at a Sioux City movie theater that day, relaxing before that night's game. A message came across the movie screen, directing Mays to report to the lobby.

The young star, a native of Fairfield, Ala., later said he thought something bad had happened to his family.

Tommy Heath, the Millers' manager, met with Mays at the team's hotel in Sioux City. Heath told Mays he was to board an airplane and fly directly to New York, as the big league club needed him to play center field.

Columnist Patrick Reusse, of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, wrote about the exchange in a Star-Tribune story last July.

"I was doing everything right in Minneapolis," Mays said. "I told Tommy Heath that I didn't want to go to the Giants. I didn't think I was ready for the big leagues."

Heath said he'd get the colorful -- and often foul-mouthed -- Giants Manager Leo Durocher on the phone and Mays could let Durocher know.

"He called and Leo got on the phone," Mays said. "Everyone knows how Leo talked. And he used a lot of his favorite (curse) words telling me to go to the airport and get to New York."

Mays did as he was asked. Stoddard covered the game for the Journal, a 5-3 victory by the Millers over the Soos. In an editor's note, Stoddard wrote, "Mays, who arrived in Sioux City with the Millers Thursday for the exhibition game with the Sioux City Soos (on) Thursday night, left by plane shortly before the Sioux City-Minneapolis game."

Mays got off to a tough start in the major leagues, getting just one hit in his first 26 at-bats.

He would rebound and win Rookie of the Year honors after hitting .274 and helping his Giants win the National League pennant.

Mays served the U.S. Army throughout the following two seasons. He returned to the Giants in 1954 and won the Most Valuable Player award while leading his team to a World Series title.



Load comments