SAN FRANCISCO -- Willie Mays is 83 now, with his vision impaired by glaucoma, yet you still cannot slip a fast one past him without having it turned around.
Mays was sitting in his favorite chair in the Say Hey Suite, his domain in AT&T Park, the magnificent home of the San Francisco Giants, Willie’s town and team for 14 of his 22 big-league seasons.
A visitor from Minneapolis was asking Mays to validate the theory that the roster the National League brought to Minnesota for the 1965 All-Star Game was the greatest assembly of talent on one baseball team in history.
There were a dozen Hall of Famers, plus Pete Rose, on the 25-player squad. There was an outfield of Frank Robinson, Roberto Clemente and Billy Williams … a backup outfield.
Best ever, right, Mr. Mays?
“That was a great team in ’65, but it wasn’t much different than the rest of the teams we sent to the All-Star Game during that time,” Mays said. “The National League was great every year.”
Then, the Say Hey Kid leaned forward slightly in his chair and said:
“We had so many 3 and 4 hitters on those teams, [manager] Walter Alston came to me before an All-Star Game and said, ‘Willie, I can’t make out a lineup. I don’t have a leadoff hitter.’
“I said, ‘I’ll write out a lineup.’ I took the card, put myself at the top, wrote in Hank [Aaron] and Ernie [Banks] in the middle and said to Walter, ‘I’ll get us off to a good start.’ ”
This was on July 11, 1960, in Kansas City’s Municipal Stadium. It was during the four-year period (1959-62) when there were two All-Star Games played per summer to fund a players’ pension plan.
Mays had played in his first All-Star Game in 1954. He made his first start in 1957. The National League was 3-4 against the American League in Willie’s first seven All-Star Games.
Then, Mays wrote himself at the top of the lineup, and fulfilled his vow to Alston, the manager of the rival Dodgers, to get the National Leaguers off to a good start.
Willie led off with a triple against AL starter Bill Monbouquette. The National League scored three runs in the first and won the game 5-3.
Mays would be a fixture on the National League team through 1973. From his leadoff triple to a final pinch-hitting appearance (as a member of the New York Mets) in ’73, the NL went 14-2-1 in All-Star Games.
Overall, from Game 1 in 1960 through the NL’s victory at the Metrodome in 1985, the Nationals were 25-3-1 in All-Star Games.
“That  All-Star Game you’re talking about in Minnesota … I got us off to a good start in that game, too,” said the Say Hey Kid. “I led off with a home run against that guy from Baltimore.”
Milt Pappas. “That was him,” Mays said.
Mays also was the finisher for the NL that afternoon in Bloomington, working his way around the bases in the seventh inning to score the tiebreaking run in a 6-5 victory.