Anyone who knows a bit about Willie Mays and Hank Aaron knows that they are totally different, temperamentally-speaking. Mays is city, Aaron country. Mays has always been a larger than life personality, Aaron a still-waters-run-deep kind of guy. It extended to their playing styles and, though time and age have softened the distinctions between them in the eyes of the public, still persists to this day.
But until Howard Bryant’s soon-to-be-published Hank Aaron book was written — and excerpted by Allen Barra in the Village Voice — we had no idea just how acrimonious their relationship really was, and likely still is:
Bryant cites a first-hand account from 1957, a United Press/Movietone
News reporter named Reese Schoenfeld, that Mays ragged on Aaron from the
sidelines while Henry was being interviewed in front of a TV camera:
“How much they paying you, Hank? They ain’t payin’ you at all, Hank?
Don’t you know we all get paid for this? You ruin it for the rest of us,
Hank! You just fall off the turnip truck?”
While Aaron became more and more agitated, Mays laid it on thick: “You
showin’ ’em how you swing? We get paid three to four hundred dollars for
this. You one dumb ni—-!”
According to Bryant, “Henry’s reaction for the next fifty years — to
diffuse, while not forgetting, the original offense — would be
consistent with the shrewd but stern way Henry Aaron dealt with
uncomfortable issues. The world did not need to know Henry’s feelings
towards Mays, but Henry was not fooled by his adversary. Mays committed
one of the great offenses against a person as proud as Henry: he
insulted him, embarrassed him in front of other people, and did not
treat him with respect.”
And it wasn’t just that incident. According to Bryant, Mays was frequently dismissive of Aaron and his accomplishments, was obviously resentful that it was Hank — and not Mays — who beat the Babe, and since then has acted as though the two of them were close when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
Mays is often referred to as the best all-around baseball player in baseball history. He may be. But if what Bryant says is true about the manner in which he treated Aaron (and presumably everyone else he considered a rival for the spotlight) he is also one of baseball’s biggest all-around jerks.
Bryant’s Aaron book will be released next week. Sounds like one I’m definitely going to want to read.
The San Francisco Chronicle’s Susan Slusser reports that Athletics’ right-hander Sonny Gray will not pitch in the World Baseball Classic after failing to meet the necessary criteria for insurance coverage. He missed 70 days on the disabled list with forearm tightness and a back strain in 2016.
According to Oakland GM David Forst, Major League Baseball tried to persuade the insurance carrier to waive the requirements for Gray to pitch for Team USA, but the request was ultimately refused. Without coverage, Gray will be unable to participate in the competition, though Forst adds that the 27-year-old is still in perfect health as Opening Day approaches and should benefit from a slower spring training schedule without the added commitment on his plate.
Injuries complicated a down year for Gray, who pitched to a career-worst 5.69 ERA, 3.2 BB/9 and 7.2 SO/9 rate through 117 innings in 2016. His 1.4 HR/9 and 17.8% HR/FB rates suggested that he felt the effects of the home run spike more than most, capping a disappointing follow-up to his All-Star campaign during 2015.
While Gray works up to a healthy and productive start to the 2017 season, the Athletics will still see two players on WBC rosters next month: right-handed reliever Santiago Casilla, who is scheduled to pitch for the Dominican Republic, and fellow righty John Axford, for Team Canada.
Rangers’ outfielder Josh Hamilton is scheduled for another knee exam on Monday, according to Jeff Wilson of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Hamilton left camp last week after feeling some pain in his left knee and received a PRP injection to alleviate the symptoms. Wilson notes that both Dr. Walt Lowe and Rangers’ assistant general manager Mike Daly noticed little improvement in the days following the injection.
More drastic measures could be necessary if the 35-year-old intends to return to the field this year. MLB.com’s TR Sullivan adds that the Rangers are considering arthroscopic surgery for Hamilton, which would set him back at least 4-6 weeks and eliminate any real chance of his making the Opening Day roster in April. Until they see the results of the surgery, however, the Rangers won’t rule out Hamilton’s potential return to the big leagues in 2017.
Hamilton is looking at his third major procedure since the end of the 2015 season. He missed all of the Rangers’ 2016 campaign after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery last spring and has not seen a full workload in the majors since his 2013 run with the Angels. Should he make a full recovery this season, he figures to see some time at first base/DH or the corner outfield.