New York Daily News

Happy birthday to a living legend

- Chet Jelinski

Whiting, N.J.: Today is the 90th birthday of the man who started and ended his baseball career in New York, the amazing Willie Mays. Even though many consider Mays the greatest allaround player of all time because he was not controvers­ial, there has never been a movie made about him. Many don’t know his name. Yes, it was #42, Jackie Robinson, who broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier, but it was #24, Willie Mays, who broke an “invisible” color barrier by becoming the first Black captain of a major league team (San Francisco Giants in 1964).

I’m a Yankee fan, mind you, but the great Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio did his part to keep Mays in the shadows by proclaimin­g himself “The Greatest Living Ballplayer” when Willie clearly had a better career than Joe did!

In May 1980, Mays came to a bar on Roseville Ave. in Newark for a luncheon sponsored by a Black businessma­n. I went, as I was from Newark and had been a Mays fan since the age of 5. (Ironically, the bar Willie visited was very close to one called “The Yankee Clipper,” DiMaggio’s nickname. It seems like no matter what he did, Willie was always in Joe’s shadow). I didn’t go inside, but what did I see when my carpet cleaning colleague James Ebon’s limo pulled up in front and Willie Mays stepped out? “The Greatest Living Ballplayer,” no matter what anyone else called themselves. Even since DiMaggio died in 1999, I haven’t heard anyone bestow the title on Willie and he’s too humble to say it.

Happy 90th, Willie, if you’re reading this! Your fans know the truth. We always have.

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