"(Willie) Mays is the only sports hero I had growing up who survived my teenage years and the cynicism of adulthood. Not because of his numbers, but because of his style. He was effortless and graceful in his greatness. Early on, I decided that the way Mays played baseball was how you should aspire to do everything — cutting grass, playing a solo or catching a fly ball. You have to be cool." -- William C. Rhoden in the New York Times
Willie Mays is the only baseball player that my grandfather would struggle to articulate why he was at the top of the mountain regarding being the best.
Oh, he'd tell you he was the best. He'd tell why Mays was so awesome and tell you why others paled in comparison to him. But, he could never quite uniquely express why he was so passionate about his love for The Say Hey Kid.
"Mays was cool before they were even thought of and they learned how to be cool from him. Case closed, now go on ahead and rack these balls, son. 8-ball, side pocket."
As I retrieved the rack and reset the balls, I realized that I only could go off the gospel of my grandfather, Uncle Bill and those of a previous generation before me and trust in what they said. It wasn't for me to witness, only for me to digest and acknowledge.
Willie Howard Mays, Jr. officially turned 86 years old on Saturday, and even with YouTube highlights that's now available, justice will never be truly served for his greatness.
That's okay, because we all should live a life that one day our peers should speak of you as highly as they do of Mays. Sometimes the spoken words means even more than any cut-up highlight reel. Now enjoy the highlight reel as we celebrate the birth of baseball's coolest.
Eddie Maisonet is the founder and editor emeritus of The Sports Fan Journal. Currently, he serves as an associate editor for ESPN.com. He is an unabashed Russell Westbrook and Barry Switzer apologist, owns over 100 fitteds and snapbacks, and lives by Reggie Jackson’s famous quote, “I am the straw that stirs the drink.”