Willie worthy of ultimate respect

Insider's Jim Baker had the honor of witnessing the final home run in Willie Mays' illustrious career.

Updated: April 14, 2004, 9:30 AM ET
By Jim Baker | MLB Insider
With Barry Bonds passing Willie Mays on the all-time home run list this week, I've been thinking a lot about one of my favorite childhood memories. When I was a kid, I was lucky enough to be at the game on August 17, 1973 in which Willie Mays hit his 660th and final home run.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays is a living legend who revolutionized the game.
It came for the New York Mets in a 2-1 loss to the Cincinnati Reds in their ugly run to the division title that year. The father of my friends Dave and Scott took us to the game at Shea Stadium. As could sometimes be done, he bribed an usher to upgrade our seats. This was a real gamble because there was no guarantee the rightful owners wouldn't show up to claim them. These seats were particularly great being in the first row of the second deck right behind home plate. From there we had a magnificent view of the field, one that I could rarely afford as an adult, sadly. As the first couple of innings went by, people all around us were getting booted when the actual ticket holders showed up after battling Friday night traffic. We kept waiting to get the tap on the shoulder, but, fortunately, it never came.

Mays was batting third and playing first base that night which probably says a lot about the way things were going for the team at that point. They started the night 12 games under .500 and in last place. That they were only 7 games out gave them hope that later proved not to be unfounded when they came all the way back to cop the lamest division title ever with a .509 winning percentage.

Jim Baker is an author at Baseball Prospectus and a frequent contributor to Page 2. You can e-mail Jim at bottlebat@gmail.com.