If you subscribe to the theory that Willie Mays was the greatest baseball player who ever lived, consider “Say Hey, Willie Mays!” additional ammunition for bar arguments, as well as a whole lot of fun. Throw in the fact that the 91-year-old Giants all-star lends his voice to the proceedings, and it’s a solid HBO documentary for anyone who loves the game, with one glaring error.
The winner of 12 golden gloves, slugger of 660 homeruns, participant in a record-tying 24 All-Star Games, and recipient of the presidential medal of freedom from President Obama, Mays was “the most spectacular baseball player that ever played,” says Reggie Jackson, while prompting the late Dodgers announcer Vin Scully to marvel, “”Most of us were absolutely blown away by his overall ability.”
Largely raised by his aunts after his parents split up, Mays came out of segregated baseball before the Giants poached him from the Negro League. Mays immediately dazzled fans and was widely accepted by White America, so much so that director Nelson George can incorporate amusing clips of his incongruous appearances on sitcoms like Donna Reed’s show.
At the same time, Mays drew criticism for his unwillingness to speak out regarding civil rights, eventually prompting the trailblazing Jackie Robinson to publicly accuse Mays – who “wasn’t outwardly political,” as Bob Costas says – of “looking only to his security as a great star.” That was true despite the racism that Mays himself faced, which included being initially denied the opportunity to buy a house in a posh San Francisco neighborhood.
In addition to the pleasure of listening to Mays reminisce, George uses the format to provide a bounty of his on-field exploits, dissecting feats like the legendary over-the-shoulder catch of Vic Wertz’s fly ball during the World Series from every conceivable angle. “Say Hey” also deals with baseball-centric trivia like the poorly chosen location of San Francisco’s Candlestick Park, where high winds knocked down balls that would have been homeruns elsewhere, blunting Mays’ stats.
So where’s the error? Those interviewed include Mays’ godson, Barry Bonds, and note that Mays played a pivotal role in bringing him to the Giants in 1993. Yet while Bonds’ reflections on Mays’ talents prove a welcome addition, there’s conspicuously no mention of the steroid scandal that tarnished Bonds’ records and that has kept him and others out of the Hall of Fame, a asterisk-worthy omission if there ever was one.
Setting that aside, “Say Hey, Willie Mays!” is the kind of treat to help tide over baseball fans through the post-season, giving Mays his due while he’s still around to take a bow. It’s a gift for baseball fans who saw him play before he hung up that golden glove nearly 50 years ago, and maybe even more so, for those who didn’t.
“Say Hey, Willie Mays!” premieres November 8 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO, which, like CNN, is a unit of Warner Bros. Discovery.