Not just Willie, many of the best Negro League players were offered to the Yankees before winding up elsewhere. John Klima, the author of Willie’s Boys: The 1948 Birmingham Black Barons has an article in the New York Times discussing what he found in his research for his book. He writes:
Willie Mays could have been a Yankee. In the 13 months leading up to his acquisition by the New York Giants on June 20, 1950, the Yankees received numerous tips about Mays, then a teenager who was considered the best player in the Negro leagues.
The story of how he got away is a window into a time when the Yankees resisted baseball integration with discriminatory policies that cost them the best talent available in the years after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947.
(part time Yankee scout) Press pleaded with (Yankee advisor) Paul Krichell, the Yankees’ head scout, to see Mays. In a letter to Krichell, Press raved about players but expressed dismay that the Yankees had chosen to ignore black prospects.
“You could have had practically all of them, just for the asking,” Press wrote, naming several players, including Davis and Mays.
Klima goes on to add that HOF Shortstop Ernie Banks was another player who was the Yanks for the asking, but they passed.The Yanks had the forgettable Billy Hunter (1955), Gil McDougald (56-60) and Tony Kubek (61-65). McDougald and Kubek were good players, but they weren’t close to Banks. Banks first full season in the bigs was 1954, and Phil Rizzuto was done by 1955, so Banks could have took over after Rizzuto and been a cornerstone player.
The very thought of an outfield of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle and Hank Bauer/Roger Maris is almost impossible to fathom. It would be among the best of all time, if not the clear winner. The 1961 team would have been even more storied, if at all possible. It’s hard to argue the Yanks would have won more, during Mays’ prime (54-66) the Yanks had 9 World Series appearances and won 4 World Series championships. But he very well could have been the difference in a few of those series, and Joe Girardi might be wearing #30 on his back today.
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