Mike Vaccaro has a column up today talking about Derek Jeter in twilight and he notes that the touchstone reference for an aging athlete is “Willie Mays falling down in the outfield” or “Willie Mays stumbling in the outfield” (as I’ve often heard it) during his final season with the New York Mets.
If you hear some people talk about it, you’d think he spent the entire 1973 season constantly stumbling out there, in need of help from paramedics and stuck in a half-dumbfounded state for months. As Vaccaro notes, however, this was actually a one-time deal. The meme springs from one play in the 1973 World Series. On a day when everyone was having trouble in the outfield due to the hazy sky.
History is tough like that, though. And, obviously, when you have a stumble like that during the World Series — back when everyone watched the World Series — it’s going to hold a little stronger. Still: kinda nuts that Mays has that hung on him so much. Surprising how strongly a single play resonates. And it says something — something not altogether flattering — about the person relating the story. About how it’s hard for them to watch athletes get old and how that discomfort is what should decide whether or not they hang it up.
I wonder what Willie Mays thought about the night after the game he stumbled. I wonder if he felt good and vital and dandy. Or if he thought “well, that sucked, but tomorrow is another day.” Or if he carried with him all the psychic weight that those who tell the tale seem to want him and other aging athletes to carry.