All-time Gold Glove team to be named
Rawlings will announce the nine winners at the All-Star break
NEW YORK -- The longer Willie Mays spoke, the wider his smile grew as he told a large room full of attentive baseball fans what gave him his greatest thrills during the 23 seasons he played center field for the Giants -- New York and San Francisco -- and the Mets.
No, the "Say Hey Kid" wasn't painting a verbal diagram of his patented basket catch during a press conference in midtown Manhattan on Tuesday.
The Hall of Fame Giants outfielder was talking defense during a gathering at which Rawlings opened up the voting that will decide the all-time Gold Glove team. The team, which will be announced during the All-Star break, will be selected by fans from a list of 50 candidates who have won the cherished defensive award since the glove company first began presenting it following the 1957 Major League Baseball season.
"I used to get a kick out of guys who were batting and thinking that they'd hit one over the fence," Mays said. "I would go over the fence and catch the ball, and I would look out of the corner of my eye and see a guy going around second base.
"And all of a sudden, he'd see me with the ball, and playing it back in. I would laugh. That to me is impressive. Everybody can hit the ball, but not everybody can do that."
Finally, Mays, with his Giants cap a little off center atop his head, said that those batters would always have something to say to him the next day. The aging star wouldn't relate details of those conversations.
Rawlings, in what it calls the "Summer of Glove" vote, decided more than three years ago that it would do something special to commemorate the golden anniversary of the award. Nearly 70 people close to the game were consulted to make up the ballot.
On hand were three of the Gold Glove Award winners in 1957 -- the first year the award was presented. Of those three, only Mays is on the ballot of 50 players chosen from a cast of more than 250 players who have won the award over the past half-century.
"My father told me if you can play defense and run the bases, you are going to have job the rest of your life," said Mays, who began his big-league career in 1951 and won 12 Gold Gloves once the award was instituted by Rawlings.
Two youth baseball teams from Long Island became the first voters during the press conference on Tuesday. They were on hand for the event, and signaled that some of the old-timers on the ballot might have a worry or two about attracting votes.
Frank Malzone, a third baseman who won three Gold Gloves before Orioles Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson began to dominate the hot corner and win 16 of the awards, said the Rawlings promotion should lend itself to some great debates.
"It's going to be tough when you get to the old-time players," said Malzone, a former star with the Red Sox. "Willie Mays will be up there because he is well known."
One of the youngsters from the Playmakers team from Long Island named Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter and former St. Louis Cardinals great Ozzie Smith, but beyond some of today's stars, he didn't give much more than a nod when asked about some of the older names on the ballot such as Luis Aparicio, a great shortstop with the White Sox in the 1950s, '60s and '70s.
Mike Rizzitello, another member of the Playmakers, said he'd done some homework in regards to a few of the older players on the list and was particularly interested in Kirby Puckett, the great Minnesota Twins center fielder who passed away.
But when he was asked who he planned to vote for, Rizzitello said: "Willie Mays, Brooks Robinson and Don Mattingly."
Glove notes: Rawlings announced that boys and girls ages 12 years and younger will have a chance to win a Rawlings Gold Glove through the first Junior Rawlings Gold Glove program. Information is available at www.rawlingsgoldglove.com. ... The company is also beginning a program that will recognize America's greatest college and high school defensive players. The collegiate and high school Rawlings Gold Glove Awards will be presented to NCAA Division I, II and III players, NAIA and NJCAA players and to high-school kids in partnership with the American Baseball Coaches Association. Details of the program will be announced on Friday in Orlando, Fla., at the ABCA'S annual convention.
Kit Stier is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.