Thoughts on Willie Mays stumbling around the outfield

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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.

Mike Trout has been really good at baseball lately

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“Water wet,” “Sky blue,” “Dog bites man” and “Mike Trout good” are not exactly newsworthy sentiments, but once in a while you have to state the obvious just so you can look back later and make sure you were, in the moment, aware of the obvious.

And to be fair, “Mike Trout good” is underselling the Angels outfielder lately. He’s on the greatest tear of his great career lately, and dang it, that’s worthy of a few words on this blog.

Last night Trout went a mere 1-for-1, but that’s because the Diamondbacks were smart enough not to pitch to him too much, walking him twice. There was no one on base the first time he came up and he got a free pass. There was a guy on first but two outs the second time, so he was once again not given much to hit and took his base again. Arizona was not so lucky the third time. The bases were loaded and there was nowhere to put Trout. He smacked the first pitch he saw for a two-run single. They probably shoulda just walked him anyway, limiting the damage to one. The last time up he reached on catcher’s interference. Maybe Arizona figured that literally grabbing the bat from him with a catcher’s mitt was the best bet?

If so you can’t blame them, really. Not with the month he’s had. In June, Trout is hitting .448/.554/.776 with five homers. He currently leads the league in the following categories: home runs (23), runs (60), walks (64), on-base percentage (.469), OPS (1.158) OPS+ (219), total bases (179) and intentional walks (9). He currently has a bWAR of 6.5. WAR, in case you did not know, is a cumulative stat. When he won the 2014 MVP Award, he “only” had 7.6 for the entire year.

Sadly, one man does not a team make, so the Angels are only 9-8 in the month of June and have fallen far back of the red-hot Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners in the division race. For this reason I suspect a lot of people are going to do what they’ve long done and overlook Mike Trout’s sheer dominance or, even more ridiculously, claim he is overrated or something (believe me, I’ve seen it even this month).

Feel free to ignore those people and concentrate instead on the greatest baseball player in the game today, who has somehow managed to up his game in recent weeks.