Willie Howard Mays’ died at the age of 93. There’s a story about Willie.

The Say Hey Kid’s first season in the bigs was shaping up to be an awful one. He’d gotten no hits. He was a rookie with the worst record in the league. Period. After 26 plate appearances he’d hit the ball only once.


Mays’ batting average was hovering above zero.

One day, after a crushing defeat, young Willie marched off to the showers and cried. He was ready to quit the game. That’s what he told his manager. Too much pressure. Too many expectations. You could almost hear the proverbial fat lady warming up.

His manager found him crying, face in hands. Willie begged the manager to send him back down.

“It’s too hard,” Willie cried. “I don’t belong in the majors, send me back to the minors.”

But the manager refused. The skipper used all the clichéd inspirational coaching phrases. “There ain’t no I in team.” “Can’t never could.” “Life’s a sewer, you get out what you put in.”

But the pep-talk wasn’t working. So the manager gave Willie some practical advice. The words just came out of the old man’s mouth.

“You’ll get two hits tomorrow, Willie. If you’ll just pull up your pants.”

Willie just looked at him.

“Pull up my WHAT?”

“Pull up your pants, kid. Pull’em all the way up.”

The next day, when Willie approached the dish the manager was giving the signal. The coach was in the dugout, pulling up his pants like a clown.

And so it was that several thousand Giants fans watched the young rookie grab his belt, and make a big production out of hoisting the waistline of his pants toward his nipples, á la Fred Mertz.

Willie got two hits.

The Giants beat the pirates, 14-3. The next afternoon, Willie pulled up his pants above his belly button. He got the only hit of the game. Giants beat the Cards, 1-0.

Throughout Willie’s career, he went on to get 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, with 1,903 runs batted in. What that means in layman’s terms is that Willie Mays is considered to be the greatest ball player in history, only preceded by Babe Ruth.

Surprisingly, when asked about his success later in life, Willie credited the advice of his manager. Pulling up his pants.

Here’s why:

When a ball is thrown across the plate, it must travel above the knees to be called a strike inasmuch as baseball is a game of inches. One inch above the knees is a strike. An inch below, it’s a ball.

Willie’s manager noticed the kid’s pants were baggy. The red-dirt marks on Willie’s knees sagged several inches below his kneecaps, which widened his strike zone.

But when he pulled his pants up, Willie Mays’ strike zone narrowed. Which meant the pitcher had to throw Willie good pitches. Which meant that Willie Mays should, could, and would tear the cover off the ball.

So if you’re having a bad day, if you’re doubting your own worth, if you’re feeling down, take the advice of the greatest ball player of all time, may he rest in peace.

Get out there. Keep trying. Keep swinging. And when all else fails, pull your pants up.

And now you know the rest of the story.

Sean Dietrich is a columnist and novelist known for his commentary on life in the American South. He has authored nine books and is the creator of the “Sean of the South” blog and podcast. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of 1819 News. To comment, please send an email with your name and contact information to Commentary@1819News.com.

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