Thursday, October 27, 2022, Manhattan, New York. HBO Documentary Films and Urbanworld Film Festival – hosted an exclusive screening for, “Say Hey, Willie Mays!” at the SVA Theater (located at 333 W 23rd Street in Manhattan, New York). The production runs in association with UNINTERRUPTED, Zipper Bros Films, and the Major League Baseball franchise to curate and celebrate one of baseball’s most renowned players, the living legend, and Baseball’s oldest living Hall of Famer, Willie Howard Mays Jr.
The film “Say Hey Willie Mays!” is directed by Nelson George and produced by Colin Hanks, Sean Stuart and Glen Zipper; Executive producers from UNINTERRUPTED include LeBron James, Maverick Carter, Jamal Henderson, Philip Byron and Major League Baseball’s Nick Trotta. With his career that spanning over 25 years, “Say Hey Willie Mays!” tells the story of the MLB icon, Willie Mays Jr, the discovery of his life calling in Baseball and emphasizes the fulfillment this path afforded him. The film covers Mays’ early career, where he began his profession in the Negro minor leagues; his draft by the US Army during the Korean War (1952 – 1953 ) shortly after being signed to the, then New York Giants; his impressive record setting career stats, that are compared to Babe Ruth’s; the highs (and the self-reflective times) of his life, and how he changed the face of baseball for the world.
Athleticism runs in Mays’ blood. His story begins in Westfield, Alabama; the living legend co-narrates the film which speaks highly of his father, Cat Mays, who raised him after he and Willie’s mother separated. Cat Mays played an integral part in young Mays’ development as an athlete and his sportsmanship. Willie’s father, Cat Mays, a talented baseball player himself, participated in a local baseball team in Fairfield. His mother, Annie Satterwhite, also a skilled athlete, chose to run track and play basketball while she attended school. As a natural athlete, Mays explored an array of sports from basketball, to even becoming a quarterback for his school’s football team. Ultimately, his heart found its home in Baseball. His professional career as a baseball player began before he finished high school at the tender age of 17 with the Birmingham Black Barons, a minor league that initiated him into the, then, Negro American League. Despite all of the social commotion and cultural norms separating people of color from experiencing a more robust life, it was impossible to hide a light as bright as Mays. On the field Mays shone, and was scouted by several major leagues before he was of legal age to commit to a professional Major league team. Mays eventually signed to the New York Giants in 1950 and it is here that the world begins to take notice of Willie Mays Jr!
As the story continues, the world kept a close eye on this gifted athlete as he literally swept the nation westward; branching his career from the East Coast and playing for teams as far out as California. He even inspired younger athletes, such as his godson, Barry Bonds; to walk in his footsteps. Mays would go on to become the Rookie of The Year (1951); becoming an MVP player after closing in on 41 home runs and leading his team to win the World Series Championship of 1954-1955 thanks to his infamous “Catch” from a fly-ball hit by Vic Wertz of the Cleveland Indians.
The film also highlights Mays as a star off the field. His natural charm and mild-mannered temperament opened doors for him to meet high ranking public officials, political and national figures and receive special honors. Mays was featured in mainstream television, where his early media appearances on “The Donna Reed Show”(1964-1966); “The Colgate Comedy Hour Self”(1954) reaffirmed the benevolent narrative that surrounds him and set the trajectory for his star-studded career in and out of Major League Baseball.
Although the documentary is filled with gems and life principles, one of the most inspiring aspects of this film is Mays’ diplomacy and his work ethic, which he allowed to speak for the man that he was raised to be. He never lost sight of his mission to excel or perform at his best, even when facing discrimination. He never let the outside noises or distractions become the “thing” that branded his career. He had a gift of not taking things personal, remaining focused, rooted and being noted by his colleagues as a very reserved man, even in the face of personal and career scrutiny. The film makes reference to fellow MLB icon, Jackie Robinson, who accused him of “selling out” and “not doing enough for the advancement of black people”. With class, poise and dignity, Mays responded to his statement and made it clear that he successfully led his own quiet revolution for his people and many others. The film backs this evident truth by highlighting community involvement, charitable works, his impact on every community he’s stepped foot in; his accolades and praises from public figures and his dedication to his craft. Mays clearly inspired and opened doors for people of various nationalities to enter the league and never once did he care what the color of their skin was.
Willie Mays Jr loved what he did, and played with love. The film does an extraordinary job highlighting these wonderful qualities about him.
Other special film appearances included his protégé, Barry Bonds, the son of baseball legend Bobby Bonds.
The special guest in attendance for the HBO Documentary screening included film-contributor and Hip Hop Legend, Chuck D of Public Enemy (who I was so thrilled to have met); Nick Trotta, Colin Hanks, Nelson George, Michael Mays, Sean Stuart and Jamal Henderson.
The new HBO documentary for, “Say Hey Willie Mays!” aired on HBO Nov. 8, 2022 and is available on HBO Max.
I highly recommend it!