Every baseball fan will want to watch Bob Costas interview Willie Mays tonight on the MLB Network’s Studio 42 (8:00 pm EST). But fans should also be cautioned that Willie’s memory isn’t what it once was. According to a column attributed to Wayne Coffey, Michael O’Keefe, and Mark Lelinwalla in Sunday’s Daily News, “It seems that the night before Game 1 [of the 1962 World Series] in San Francisco, Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford ran up a tab of $5,000 on Giants owner Horace Stoneham’s account at the tony Olympic Country Club. When Stoneham found out, he told Ford he’d forgive the debt if Ford could strike out Mays in Game 1…
“Mays got three hits in his first three at-bats against Ford. ‘I used to kill Whitey all the time,’ Mays says. In this fourth at-bat, Mays got behind. Ford fired a nasty spitter and struck him out. Mays looked out and saw Mantle out in centerfield, clapping. Puzzled, he turned to catcher Elston Howard.
“‘Elston, what is wrong with that fool out there?’ Mays said.
“Replied Howard, ‘I can’t tell you now, but I’ll tell you later.’
“Nearly a half-century later, Mays misremembers the sequence of the day — he thought the strikeout was his first at-bat, not his last — but not the upshot of it: that a future Hall of Famer threw a World Series strikeout pitch worth five grand.”
Note to the Daily News: You’re also misremembering. In their 1977 book with Joe Durso, Mickey and Whitey — An Autobiography of the Yankee Years, Whitey Ford recalled the real story. The game in question was not the first game of the 1962 World Series but the 1961 All-Star Game in San Francisco. “They played the game on Tuesdays,” Ford told Durso, “and we got there on Monday, so Mickey and I headed right for the golf course. It was the place where the owner of the San Francisco Giants, Horace Stoneham, was a member, and we played with his son, Peter. But we didn’t have any equipment with us, no golf shoes or sweaters or anything. So Pete Stoneham said: ‘Just sign my father’s name … ‘ and so we signed.”
At a party that night given by New York saloon owner Toots Shor, Ford went over the Horace Stoneham to pay back the $200 tab that he and Mantle had run up. Stoneham had another idea. According to Ford he said, “Look, I’ll make a deal with you. If you happen to get into the game tomorrow and you get to pitch to Willie Mays, and you get him out, we’ll call it even. But if he gets a hit off you, we’ll double it. You owe me $400 — okay?
“So I went over to Mickey and told him what Horace said, but Mickey wouldn’t go for it. No way. He knew that Mays was like 9 for 12 off me lifetime, and he didn’t have any reason to think I was going to start getting Willie out now, especially in his own ball park. But I talked Mickey into it, since we had a chance to get out of it without paying Horace anything. Now all I had to do was get Willie out.”
As it turned out, Ford was scheduled to start for the American League. Ford got the first two hitters and then Roberto Clemente doubled. Mays, in the cleanup spot, came to bat.
“Well, I got two strikes on him somehow, and now the money’s on the line because I might not get to throw to him again.
“So I did the only smart thing possible under the circumstances: I loaded up the ball real good. I threw Willie the biggest spitball you ever saw … so I struck out Willie Mays. It was a money pitch, and we just saved ourselves four hundred dollars.”
Mays was quoted in the book, “At the time, I didn’t know what was happening out there. I knew about Whitey’s curve ball and his slider, but I didn’t know he had a drop, too. I saw Mantle come in clapping his hands and acting sort of strange, and I couldn’t believe it was only because they got me out in an All-Star Game.
“Later, Mickey and Whitey told me about it and why they loaded one up on me. Did they apologize for it? You must be kidding.”