I once waited in line, a long line, to get Willie Mays to autograph a book, and I remember being struck by the strictness of his requirements and the general perception that he was a grumpy guy. Hirsch goes a long way to explain why he was often perceived that way.
This was a fun read, as Hirsch weaved in and out of ballparks and into Willie’s personal life (and how it did and did not intersect with contemporary life). I learned more about stories I already knew – the Shot Heard Around the World, the Catch, the fight between Juan Marichal and John Roseboro. I learned about Willie’s life in the Negro Leagues, his attention to his personal finances, his problematic first marriage, as well as the criticism he received from Jackie Robinson (who does not come off well here) among others about not being more vocal during the Civil Rights era.
On the front cover and in the author’s note, much is made of the fact that this is an authorized biography. More than a few times – the dispute with Robinson, his relationship with Barry Bonds, his general sense of loyalty – I wondered if that got in Hirsch’s way, if he felt obliged to gloss over certain things or provide a rationale for behavior that at the time and in retrospect does not necessarily come off well.
Still, this was a great and apparently much-needed biography. Hirsch writes about baseball well – with the passion of a true fan. Now if the Twins could only be half so inspiring!