Latest Issue

An American Legend That Led by Example

It’s not about the color of a man’s skin; it’s about the person within. These are words I strongly believe in. During my lifetime, the one place I’ve found the best example of this is on the athletic field and within those that support sports.

In our great nation, athletics, competition, and the passion of the people who watch the games seem to produce unity. With the focus being placed on team success, you can look across the crowd at any ball game and see individuals from every walk of life. Believe me, I understand fans can get a little carried away, but this is usually a result of some type of division being created by losing or the placing of an individual’s priorities over the good of the team.

Last week, when the Say Hey Kid became the late great Willie Mays, the outpouring of love and support for this American icon was astounding. It was a celebration of a lifetime of achievement on and off the baseball diamond. Timing is everything at the plate and in life, and Willie Mays exemplified this. His passing was just prior to Major League Baseball’s tribute to the Negro Leagues. This took place at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, which is America’s oldest ballpark that featured some of our nation’s greatest ball players prior to when they could participate in Major League Baseball. This year’s celebration was to honor Willie Mays along with remembering the impact the league had not just on baseball but on our nation.

I share something with Willie Mays that not many baseball fans do we both have the same birthday, May 6th. Even though he was much older before I got that first baseball card featuring him at Woolworth’s downtown, I was well aware of this fact. I wish that card was still in my possession; however, I found the exact same card and purchased a replacement a few years back. That sharing of May 6th bonded us, and I have followed him since I was eight years old.

The one thing that always amazed me was the impact he had on people he met and people like me who never shook hands with him. Again, timing being everything, he was able to share his love of baseball and of people playing with folks first in Birmingham, Alabama, then in New York City before his days in San Francisco. He grew from the Say Hey Kid into one of the most admired and loved individuals by his peers who played not only with him but before him and long after him. The respect he earned came from being a 24-time All-Star, 12-time gold glover, and arguably the best player ever. He could do anything on the baseball field and make it look easy; he posted many numbers that will never be seen again. This was accomplished by playing every day and not taking games off like the players of today. He was also blessed with amazing talent and worked hard. Along the way, he served two years in the Army and never missed a beat. I should add that he was also awarded a President’s Medal of Freedom. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the play he made in the Polo Grounds that became known as The Catch and probably is the most replayed highlight in baseball history. It has to be between that and Bobby Thomson’s Shot Heard Round the World.

I’d better stop there and move on to South Head coach Tom O’Malley, where I left off last week. I wonder if Tom’s path ever crossed with Willie Mays during his playing days in New York or San Francisco? I will have to find out from my Little League World Series writings. A tip of my Webb Weekly cap with the American Flag on the side to the South Williamsport Lady Mountie Softballers. What a fantastic season as they made it all the way to Penn State’s Beard Field and the PIAA State Championship game. The girls may not have returned home with the gold medals, but they represented the school with class and fought hard to the very last out.

Only one team can finish the year with a celebratory dogpile, and this year, it was Neshannock from the powerful WPIAL Conference in Western Pennsylvania. The Lancers had more experience and had been there before. The Lady Mountaineers gained that valuable experience this year and return almost everyone for next season. I will let Scott Lowery give you all the details and share a picture of Tom O’Malley’s 2024 PIAA 2A runner-up squad on page 40. You’re in pretty good company when you get mentioned in any column alongside side Willie Mays.

I’ll finish this week with a drum roll please, and the winner of our Great American Cookout Giveaway. Thank you to everyone who entered. Wait a moment. I’m out of space for the week, so I’m going to keep you in suspense and make you flip over to editor Steph’s page to see if you’re the winner.

Let’s all be safe out there.

God Bless America

Jim Webb