Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Jimmy Ray Hart (1963-1972)

Jimmy Ray Hart played for the San Francisco Giants from 1963 (a late season call-up) until 1972 (an injury plagued season). He ended his playing career as one of the original successful designated hitters with the New York Yankees, hitting 13 HRs and driving in 53 runs in 1973.

From Hookerston, North Carolina, probably more than a stones throw away from Andy, Barney, Floyd, Goober, Gomer, Opie and the others in Mayberry.

As the team captain, Mays remembered how Leo Durocher dealt with Dusty Rhodes. (Rhodes delighted in being known as Horace Stoneham's personal bartender.) Durocher didn't forbid it and actually gave him money for the booze. In exchange, Rhodes agreed not to consume alcohol for the rest of the week. Then Durocher would give him money again and Rhodes would make the same pledge.

Mays told Hart: "If you play for me 6 days, I'll give you one (1)." He explained that if Hart stopped by his locker every Monday morning, he (Mays) would give him a bottle. They shook hands on it.

Hart excelled under Mays's vigilance. When he was suspended he had 9 homers. In the last 68 games, Hart hit 14 homers, finishing the season with a .299 batting average and 96-runs batted in, while playing in 160 games. When that 1965 was over, Mays took $500 out of his wallet to give to Hart. "It's for telling me the truth and playing every day."

In 1964 Hart hit 31-HR, had 81-RBI and batted .286.
In 1966 Hart hit 33-HR, had 93-RBI and batted .285.
In 1967 Hart hit 29-HR, had 99-RBI and batted .289.

You could say Willie Mays saved Jimmy Ray Hart's career. Because he believed in Jimmy Ray. Unfortunately, the demons were too much and he was unable to conquer them to maintain a consistent level of play which would allow him to produce in the major leagues.

He missed a good portion of the 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 and 1972 seasons due to various illnesses and or injuries. Upon further review, he had more "no show" seasons than respectable, productive seasons (5-4).

(from the Autobiography of Willie Mays by James Hirsch and

Kevin J. Marquez