One a-MAYS-ing sports car

Bob Dunn
Distant Replay

And then there was the super star who was responsible for turning a sports writer into the owner of a Corvette.

Willie Mays, and me.

No, Willie did not buy me a flashy sports car, although that would’ve been even nicer. In fact, Willie and I have never met, officially. Yet entirely because of him I bought my first Corvette, which led to a second Corvette.

It was near the end of the illustrious super star’s major league career. He was with the San Francisco Giants. I had long considered him the best baseball player I’d never seen play, so watching him in action before he retired became a mission…obsession. Somehow I convinced my bride that we newlyweds (then living in Vancouver) should take our dream (?) vacation and drive to the City by the Bay for a Giants home game, just to see Willie in the flesh, even though she had no such mission.

And then it happened.

The Giants traded Willie to New York, for a forgettable pitcher named named Charlie Williams and $50,000. The newlyweds, miffed and unable to bankroll a trip across the country to see the Mets, took their travel fund and used it for a down payment on a 1972 Corvette Convertible. The ’Vette remained in the family until the second child arrived, departing because there was only room for one child in the “boot” (what seat belts?) — that space behind the cockpit.

When a friend who knew Mays heard our tale years later, he said the Say Hey Kid would get a kick out of it, and that I should send him a letter. So of course I did. Maybe he read it. Maybe he even got a kick out of it. I’ll never know. He is, after all, now 90 years old.

Sixteen months after our cancelled vacation, life had taken us to Montreal and I was covering my first World Series game, the Mets against the Oakland A’s. Prior to the Series opener, I was in a media scrum gathered around Mays’ locker. It was the closest I came to meeting him.

In the second game of that Series, I watched from the press box as he stroked a game-winning single, his 3,305th and final hit, his last run-batted-in, and his last run in the next-to-last at-bat of his 23-year major league career. Finally, I had seen Willie Mays in action.

And by the way, I also had the Corvette.