Willie Mays is one of the best-known athletes of the 20th century—not to mention arguably the greatest all-around baseball player ever. Veteran newspaperman and book author James S. Hirsch handles the former San Francisco Giant’s biography with professional aplomb in Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend, though it’s noteworthy that this is an “authorized” biography. Perhaps for that reason, then, Hirsch’s tone hovers at vaguely uncritical, though he certainly covers Willie’s domestic and financial challenges with honesty and thoroughness. Otherwise, we get the well-contextualized, lengthy story of humble Alabama roots, success in the Negro Leagues, then stardom spanning two decades in the National League. Hirsch does a wonderful job of portraying Mays’ San Francisco playing days, while also offering a nice historical perspective of the game at large through the eventful 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. Mays’ final days with the New York Mets are also recounted without glossing over the pathos that typified his mostly ignoble end.
Martin Brady writes from Nashville.