May 2, 1951: Willie Mays 'torrid' in Minneapolis debut
March 31, 2017 — 12:30pm
Just a year out of high school, 19-year-old Willie Mays took the field for the Minneapolis Millers on May 1, 1951, opening day at Nicollet Park. More than 6,000 fans watched the rookie notch three hits and make a “sparkling catch” against the flagpole. Another future Hall of Famer, Hoyt Wilhelm, was the winning pitcher.
The Minneapolis Tribune’s account of the rain-shortened 11-0 victory over Columbus appears below. Two weeks later, the New York Giants called up the hot-hitting Mays and made him their center fielder.
The Minneapolis Millers captured the first Black Mush Bowl game in Association opening history Tuesday.
Before 6,477 soaked but happy customers, they downed the Columbus Red Birds 11-0 in 6 2/3 innings of cavorting on a diamond that nearly required two successive triples to score a run. The whitewasher was Hoyt Wilhelm.
Willie Mays said howdy-do as bombastically as any newcomer in history. He got three hits, made a sparkling catch against the flagpole, unfurled a typical throw.
Ray Dandridge, just a little worried about his pal, possibly, belted four hits, including a home run that gave him a watch from the National Jewelry Co. Jake Early came along and did the same thing, minus the watch.
Let’s not forget Wilhelm in the penchant to talk about hitting. He gets credit for a five-hitter as he outhurled starter Herb Moford. The seventh inning counts as played, which meant the fourth hit for Dandridge, since the Millers were ahead in their half when umpire Pat Padden called the game.
THEY WEREN’T offering jewelry for walks, a sore spot with Dave Williams. Davey strolled four-for-four, which was the easy way, considering the perfectly abominable condition of the field.
The contest was over right in the first inning, which is about as quickly as you can work for a victory in a home-opening game. The Millers got three. Pete Milne walked, Mays singled to center, the boys moved up as Mike Natisin rolled and the little veteran named Dandridge brought them in with a single to left. Moford grew generous and passed Williams, Johnny Kropf and Early in succession to force Dandy across.
It was slow going. Moford was wild, and Wilhelm was cautious, but you couldn’t be exactly sprightly in the bowl of soup that was Nicollet’s diamond. The Millers aroused themselves again in the third for a foursome with Dandridge opening on a single.
Williams walked and so did Early to load ’em up. Mr. Wilhelm, who sometimes has been known to “pull” a ball as far as second base, didn’t bother about it this time and sliced a runway double to right. Milne’s single to center and his forceout by Rudy Rufer closed the quartet.
MARTY GARLOCK had come in during the round and Marty granted four more in the sixth, when Dandridge opened by home-running for a watch. Once more Williams walked. Kropf doubled and Early, a bit peeved about it all because he wasn’t first with the idea, slammed one clear over Nicollet avenue.
Dave Thomas, the Faribault boy, came in for the seventh after Wilhelm had pitched out of a bases-filled hole by fanning the pesky Howie Phillips. It was over with Dandridge on first and two out in the bottom half.
So tonight there’s an arc light contest at 8:15, which reminds the lights were on yesterday afternoon too for the first time at Nicollet.
All business: Mays got a grip on things in the Millers clubhouse. MinnPost's Andy Sturdevant reports that Mays lived in a rented room a few blocks away during his brief stint in Minneapolis.
Mays slid home -- presumably safe, but the original caption overlooks that detail -- in a night game at Nicollet Park.
During a rain delay that turned into a postponement in mid-May, a game of checkers was the center of attention in the Millers clubhouse. Battling on the board in this Minneapolis Star "Sportsphoto" were Bama Rowell, left, and Hoyt Wilhelm.
Back when I originally published this entry several years ago, Dick Gustafson of Minneapolis posted this comment:
Thanks for reminding us of what a great player Willie Mays was. I was at the May 1st, 1951, game with the famous "flagpole catch." But that wasn't the whole story. There was a runner on third base with less than two outs. The runner tagged up and broke for home as soon as Willie caught the ball in dead center field. The runner was about halfway home when the ball thrown by Willie bounced once by the pitchers' mound and then to the catcher mitt. The runner reversed direction and had to slide back into third base to beat the throw from the catcher. The fans couldn't believe what they had just seen.
I remember turning to my friend at the end of the play to predict that that young guy would soon be in New York with the Giants. What a thrill to be at his first game in Minneapolis.
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