Mays plays center in attention game Hall of Famer helps fans, kids benefit

April 23, 1993|By Milton Kent | Milton Kent,Staff Writer

The question seemed reasonable at the time: Why would a hard-working chap such as Bob Ricker plunk down 25 of his hard-earned dollars to get the autograph of a baseball player who retired from the game when he was just 6 years old?

Because the player in question is Willie Mays, one of the greatest ever.

"Sure, it [the autographed baseball] is a collectors item, but there's only one Willie Mays," said Ricker, 26, a sales representative from White Marsh. "I mean, Willie Mays' career speaks for itself."

Indeed, Mays, who was the guest of honor at last night's Grant-A-Wish Foundation benefit and celebrity auction at Woodlawn's Martin's West, is used to being adored by youths and young adults who have never seen him play.

"The parents tell the young kids about what I did when I played ball," Mays said. "And that's what's so good about this sport. You could have a guy who's been out of baseball 10 or 12 years, and still the young kids know because their mothers and fathers enjoy what I did."

Nearly everyone who saw "The Say Hey Kid" play enjoyed and savored what he did.

The Hall of Fame center fielder, who retired in 1973 after 22 years with the New York/San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets, is third on the all-time home run list -- behind Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth -- with 660.

In addition, Mays is in the top 10 in nine categories, including hits, runs scored, total bases and RBI.

Though such local favorites as Olympic gold medalist Anita Nall, former Orioles Brooks Robinson and Boog Powell and former Colts Lenny Moore and Tom Matte were expected to attend last night's function, which raised money for the Children's House at Johns Hopkins Hospital, Mays was clearly the star of the show.

"I mean, I've met [former Colt] Artie Donovan and guys like that, but that's Willie Mays," Ricker said.

Ricker said he chatted with Mays while he signed the ball and found Mays was moved by what he saw when he toured the Children's House earlier yesterday.

Mays, 61, said he decided to donate all of the proceeds from the signing of pictures and baseballs, though he declined to talk about it.

Nowadays, Mays, who is listed in the Giants' media guide as a special assistant to the club's president and general manager, spends a good deal of time attending card shows and making appearances on behalf of Bally's Resorts.

Mays has never lost his love for the game.

"It's always going to be a good game," Mays said. "Sometimes when you get out of the game, it leaves you a little bit. . . . But it never leaves you entirely."

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