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Willie Mays was a total jerk to Hank Aaron

May 6, 2010, 8:59 AM EDT

Aaron Mays.jpgAnyone who knows a bit about Willie Mays and Hank Aaron knows that they are totally different, temperamentally-speaking.  Mays is city, Aaron country. Mays has always been a larger than life personality, Aaron a still-waters-run-deep kind of guy.  It extended to their playing styles and, though time and age have softened the distinctions between them in the eyes of the public, still persists to this day.

But until Howard Bryant’s soon-to-be-published Hank Aaron book was written — and excerpted by Allen Barra in the Village Voice — we had no idea just how acrimonious their relationship really was, and likely still is:

Bryant cites a first-hand account from 1957, a United Press/Movietone
News reporter named Reese Schoenfeld, that Mays ragged on Aaron from the
sidelines while Henry was being interviewed in front of a TV camera:
“How much they paying you, Hank? They ain’t payin’ you at all, Hank?
Don’t you know we all get paid for this? You ruin it for the rest of us,
Hank! You just fall off the turnip truck?”

While Aaron became more and more agitated, Mays laid it on thick: “You
showin’ ’em how you swing? We get paid three to four hundred dollars for
this. You one dumb ni—-!”

According to Bryant, “Henry’s reaction for the next fifty years — to
diffuse, while not forgetting, the original offense — would be
consistent with the shrewd but stern way Henry Aaron dealt with
uncomfortable issues. The world did not need to know Henry’s feelings
towards Mays, but Henry was not fooled by his adversary. Mays committed
one of the great offenses against a person as proud as Henry: he
insulted him, embarrassed him in front of other people, and did not
treat him with respect.”

And it wasn’t just that incident. According to Bryant, Mays was frequently dismissive of Aaron and his accomplishments, was obviously resentful that it was Hank — and not Mays — who beat the Babe, and since then has acted as though the two of them were close when, in fact, nothing could be further from the truth.

Mays is often referred to as the best all-around baseball player in baseball history.  He may be.  But if what Bryant says is true about the manner in which he treated Aaron (and presumably everyone else he considered a rival for the spotlight) he is also one of baseball’s biggest all-around jerks.

Bryant’s Aaron book will be released next week. Sounds like one I’m definitely going to want to read.

  1. Lardin - May 6, 2010 at 9:06 AM

    Now we know where his godson, Barry Bonds, gets it from.

  2. SouthofHeaven - May 6, 2010 at 9:34 AM

    Willie Mays: A-Rod v. 1.0?

  3. paul f - May 6, 2010 at 9:45 AM

    This is one of the dumbest posts I’ve seen. Mays was one of the most personable guys to ever play the game. “if what Bryant says is true” may be the key phrase of this article. I can almost see Mays saying some of this but meaning it purely in jest as friendly needling. I can also see Aaron misinterpreting it and beeing petty enough to hold a grudge for 50 years. If anybody was resentful it was Aaron who like some of the other negro ballplayers of the day were resentful that Mays didn’t have to pay his dues like they did. Mays tried to get along with everybody. He was the object of a lot of the racism and mistreatment ubiquitous in the country and in baseball at the time but shrugged it off and played on. In fact the biggest complaint from his contemporary players is that he didn’t speak up enough against some of the injustices taking place. You can read his recent biography to substantiate this. Mays was more concerned with being the best defensive OF in the game than trying to break Ruth’s HR record. If he hadn’t spent two of his prime years in the Army and played most of his career in one of the worst hitter’s parks (Candlestick) he probably would have broken Ruth’s record too, he only fell 54 HRs short. I have met Aaron one on one in my life and he seemed to have a tremendous chip on his shoulder. Anybody who thinks Bonds got his Diva attitude from Mays obviously doesn’t know anything about either of them.

  4. Wayne - May 6, 2010 at 9:54 AM

    This take on Mays squares pretty well with contemporary accounts of his attitude toward pretty much everybody though.

  5. Chris W - May 6, 2010 at 9:55 AM

    I’m almost always on board with you, Craig, but this is a bit much. Mays and Aaron had different personalities, and had great merits and significant flaws. Both of them. Aaron is a great human being (as far as I can tell) and one of my all-time heroes, but it’s not as if he was above being petty. Hell, even Jackie Robinson had personality traits you might find less than wanting in your son-in-law. Even if “What Bryant says is true,” lacking further examples of Mays bullying Aaron, this doesn’t strike me as much more than some (maybe a little bit less than) good natured bench jockeying that rubbed Aaron the wrong way. To conclude from it that Mays is one of the all-time jerks is silly.

  6. Craig Calcaterra - May 6, 2010 at 9:59 AM

    Chris, read the whole linked article. Mays was frequently dismissive of Aaron and resentful of Aaron beating him to Ruth’s record, chalking it up to his park, etc. Bryant’s book — of which I have seen excerpts — also notes that Mays’ post-retirement references to his friendship with Aaron are completely bogus, and seemingly calculated to have some of Aaron’s post-retirement career-elevation rub off on him somehow.
    I think that’s jerk behavior. Unless you think that Bryant has completely fabricated this stuff, of course. Which I have no reason to suspect.

  7. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - May 6, 2010 at 10:00 AM

    I can also see Aaron misinterpreting it and beeing petty enough to hold a grudge for 50 years

    How the hell do you misinterpret “You one dumb ni—-!” “?

  8. Barry S. Ondajus - May 6, 2010 at 10:02 AM

    I wonder if paul f is a Giants fan.

  9. it's all bs - May 6, 2010 at 10:04 AM


  10. it's all bs - May 6, 2010 at 10:06 AM

    Oh and BTW the Babe wasn’t always a nice guy either…especially when he had a hangover which was often!

  11. David Nolt - May 6, 2010 at 10:19 AM

    As a fan I met both at the end of thier careers, Aaron with the Brewers and Mays wth the Mets. Aaron didn’t have time to speak or sign auto graphs three days in a row. (total jerk) Mays signed autographs and met with us and was very cool. Aaron is a jerk off.

  12. Bull Durham - May 6, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    I’m always amazed how people reach grand conclusions about a celebrity after spending a grand total of a few minutes with them. I’m not one to feel sorry for those who have attained fame and fortune but I can see at least this pitfall. Every interaction, every minute of every day, every person you encounter, will carry and disseminate his impression of you for the rest of his life.
    “I met Hank Aaron one day and he didn’t sign an autograph – he’s a jerk off.”
    I can only imagine the multitudes of people who would be convinced that I’m the biggest jerk in the world if they caught me before I had coffee in the morning.

  13. johnfromnj - May 6, 2010 at 11:01 AM

    Hank & Willie are both great men in their own ways.
    They have been together many times since their playing days and enjoy each others company. I witnessed it first-hand as a field producer on an interview where both were present. Ballplayers busted balls back then in person, not by sniping anonymously from their home computers.

  14. Jonny5 - May 6, 2010 at 11:08 AM

    I don’t know about this, and don’t really care. They both were a gift to the game and I’ll leave it at that. I’d bet the book is very interesting though.
    Captcha: advantages afro WTH?????

  15. Justin - May 6, 2010 at 11:17 AM

    Willie was almost certainly a PED user as well, which you don’t often hear about… it would appear that he passed on a whole lot to his godson.

  16. Ethan Stock - May 6, 2010 at 11:27 AM

    If you haven’t already, read “I had a hammer” by Aaron before you read this book. It’s one of the best baseball books I’ve ever read, because it’s about a lot more than baseball.

  17. oldgunslingerfan - May 6, 2010 at 11:42 AM

    Willie Mays is the greatest baseball player ever. Hank Aaron was a great ballplayer, but he is not Mr. Nice guy. While Mays always had time for the fans, and having met him I can attest to his warmth and giving nature. Willie would stay late to sign autographs for the fans and during the 50’s was often found playing stickball with neighborhood kids. Willie loved kids. On the other hand Aaron was cold and aloof and rarely signed autographs or communicated much with the fans. Do not beleive everything you read and PLEASE do not equate Willie with his godson. They are two completely different people and NOT AT ALL ALIKE. Finally I beleive that most of you posting negative remarks about Willie are very young and have never seen him play and no absolutely nothing about the man.

  18. filmdude - May 6, 2010 at 11:59 AM

    I don’t think we can view these two athletes with the same looking glass that we do with current sports figures. These 2 came from a completely different time. Mays and/or Aaron might have had some jerk-ish moments (chips on their shoulders?), and may not have liked each other… It’s hard to say what shoulda, coulda happened from today’s vantage point. And the angle of the reporter Schoenfield? He’s an outsider observing something he did not understand. The pressures black ballplayers dealt with at that time pail in comparison to those of current athletes who benefit from the trails Aaron and Mays blazed.
    So, why is a sports blogger or a book writer from this day trying to spill the “shocking” beans of 2 athletes that may not have gotten along 50 years ago?… and, to add insult, express their own subjectivity on a matter that they ultimately have no real bearing?
    …To get people to read their shlock and pay their salary. I must say, I fell for it.

  19. Old Gator - May 6, 2010 at 12:04 PM

    Spend some time hanging out around a basketball court in an urban park some time while the kids are running the dozens. You’ll pick up on a whole load of alternative ways to decode that rag. If you live out in the cornfields somewhere, though, and an urban park in the ‘hood isn’t handy, you can always log onto and order yourself a used copy of H. L. Gates Jr.’s The Signifying Monkey.
    But having said that, if this is true as given, it’d be a really big disappointment. I saw Willie play, both in his prime and as a deteriorating icon with the Mutts in 1972-73, got his autograph and a huge smile over the top of the home dugout at Shea, and I cherish every moment of those halcyon afternoons and evenings.

  20. Church of the Perpetually Outraged - May 6, 2010 at 12:16 PM

    I spent my four years of higher education on 191st street in the Bronx and many a pickup game on W 4th, so I’m well versed in the vernacular of today’s youth. However, this quote was from 1957, not 2010.
    Ask Joe Louis if he thought Muhammad Ali was just joking around with the things said before their fights? Funny how it’s only those in Ali’s camp who thought he was just “playing”….

  21. Jack Meoffer - May 6, 2010 at 12:25 PM

    Like godfather, like godson. I have never heard a nice thing about Mays personally. Even when he was a greeter at a casino in Atlantic City he was nasty.

  22. Old Gator - May 6, 2010 at 12:28 PM

    In which case I bow to your superior direct experience, although I must admit that if what rap (hiphop if you prefer) I have been able to stand listening to, and in admittedly small doses, is any sort of bellwether, things haven’t changed much from the dialogue Gates relates from his upbringing in the 1950s.
    Uh – just out of curiosity, are you a fellow survivor of Fordham / Rose Hill?

  23. Church of the Perpetpually Outraged - May 6, 2010 at 12:41 PM

    In which case I bow to your superior direct experience, although I must admit that if what rap (hiphop if you prefer) I have been able to stand listening to, and in admittedly small doses, is any sort of bellwether, things haven’t changed much from the dialogue Gates relates from his upbringing in the 1950s.

    And that’s the distinction, at least I believe. If it was today’s superstars, say CC saying something to Heyward, I might be more inclined to think it was just playful banter or somesuch. However, in the context of the time was the phrase used as vernacular as it is today? I honestly don’t know (it’s a bit earlier than my time as you’ll soon find out).

    Uh – just out of curiosity, are you a fellow survivor of Fordham / Rose Hill?

    Yes sir, class of ’03

  24. david press - May 6, 2010 at 12:53 PM

    There was a recent story I heard about Willy Mays on the Mets benched by his manager, Yogi Berra, for personality disagreements between them. Is this part of a bigger pattern for Mays?

  25. LakerfanDean - May 6, 2010 at 12:56 PM

    Maybe Willie was somewhat disrespectful of Hank,today it’s called trash talking.And if history serves me right,had Willie not served 2 the Army back in the early 50’s,he surely would have passed The Babe first!!!In addition to that,had he not played in Candlestick,God only knows how many dingers he’d have wound up with!!!!

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