HBO’s ‘Say Hey, Willie Mays!’ Doesn’t Document Legend With Enough Depth
If only this film had been made 10 to 15 years ago when Mays could have been a more active participant in telling his story.
Ask any baseball fan who watched Willie Mays on the field during the 1950s and 1960s and they will likely say he was the greatest to ever play the game.
Even those too young to have watched Mays play would acknowledge his greatness upon seeing career numbers like 660 home runs, 3,293 hits, two National League Most Valuable Player awards, NL Rookie of the Year honors, 12 Gold Gloves, and 20 All-Star Game appearances. Modern fans who prefer advanced metrics to quantify excellence can see that Mays rates as the third-best player of all time in Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
Regardless of how familiar diehard or casual fans may be with Mays’s career achievements, both would surely agree that his catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series is iconic. Mays running down Vic Wertz’s drive to the Polo Grounds’ deep center field with his back turned toward home plate, making an over-the-shoulder catch is arguably the best defensive play in baseball history.
So maybe director Nelson George (Magic Johnson: The Announcement) didn’t believe that he had to spell out exactly how great a ballplayer Mays was. Yet his documentary Say Hey, Willie Mays! (premiering Nov. 8 on HBO) feels like it doesn’t quite convey Mays’s impact on baseball and sports in general.
The film provides plenty of visual evidence of the Hall of Famer’s talent, packed with archival footage showing Mays at the plate and on the field. We see photos of his early days in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Black Barons, when Mays was still in high school and learned from “Piper” Davis, who became a mentor. But George also employs actors to re-enact Mays in action, a nice touch to make young Willie Mays come to life.
Especially amusing are appearances Mays made on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Donna Reed Show, which demonstrated the star’s affable personality and his acceptance into mainstream culture despite usually being the only Black person on the screen. Yet that celebrity profile also glossed over the racism and division Mays had to deal with as a Black man growing up in Alabama in the 1930s and 1940s, and as a very public figure in New York during the 1950s.
The Black community in Harlem was protective toward Mays when he played for the New York Giants, providing whatever he needed at the Red Rooster nightclub while making sure he went home at a reasonable hour in order to be rested for the day’s next game. That was quite a contrast to what Mays faced in San Francisco when the Giants moved there following the 1957 season.
One of the most compelling parts of the documentary shows a San Francisco that wasn’t as progressive regarding race and social issues as it is now. Despite being a star athlete and a national celebrity, Mays and his wife Marghuerite dealt with resistance when they wanted to buy a house on the affluent Miraloma Drive.
Among other intriguing revelations, Mays was not initially embraced by the city’s fandom because of another native baseball star. Additionally, the new Candlestick Park was constructed in an ill-conceived, extremely windy and cold location that may have actually affected Mays’s career numbers.
However, these developments also highlight the documentary’s major flaw. We don’t hear enough from the man himself. How did Mays feel about being forced to move from New York to San Francisco? How did the racism he faced in trying to buy a house he could easily afford affect him?
George repeatedly explains that Mays followed the advice of his mentors and kept his feelings about racism to himself while trying hard to be a peacemaker amid prejudice and tensions. That drew criticism from many who preferred the outspoken activism of Muhammad Ali and Jim Brown.
Jackie Robinson sharply rebuked Mays for not using his platform to speak out, saying ““It’s a damn shame he’s never taken part.” But the film also makes sure to include defenses from Latino teammates and fellow Black ballplayers who insist Mays welcomed and stuck up for them, even if he didn’t protest publicly.
In fairness to George, Mays is 91 now. Maybe he’s no longer capable of the introspection — or the energy it requires — that would’ve made this documentary shine. Outtakes during the credits show that Mays still has a wicked sense of humor, which hints at what could have been. If only this film had been made 10 to 15 years ago when Mays could have been a more active participant in telling his story.
Say Hey, Willie Mays! really tries, however. Powerhouse producers like Colin Hanks, LeBron James, and Maverick Carter obviously believed that Mays deserved a documentary like this. George includes many interviews with contemporaries like Reggie Jackson, Orlando Cepeda, and Juan Marichal, along with media including John Shea, Jon Miller, and Bob Costas to tell us how great Mays was.
Perhaps the best testimony comes from Mays’s godson, Barry Bonds, who grew up idolizing his father’s teammate. Strangely, the film also seems to link Mays’s legacy with Bonds, which feels awkward given how he boosted his performance to surpass his godfather’s career home run total on his way to setting all-time records. But maybe it’s intended as a link from the past to the present. Letting others define Mays for us might be the best we get during this golden age of sports documentaries.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars
Say Hey, Willie Mays! premieres Tuesday, Nov. 8 at 9 p.m. ET on HBO. The documentary will also stream on HBO Max and be available on-demand, in addition to repeat airings on HBO networks.
Ian Casselberry is a sports media columnist for BSM. He has previously written and edited for Awful Announcing, The Comeback, Sports Illustrated, Yahoo Sports, MLive, Bleacher Report, and SB Nation. You can find him on Twitter @iancass or reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Vic Lombardi Turns Nuggets Disrespect into Great Content
“I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.”
There was a feeling of Denver vs. Everyone during the 10 days that separated the end of the Western Conference Finals and Game 1 of the NBA Finals. The word “boring” was being used to describe what it was going to be like watching the Nuggets play for an NBA title. It didn’t sit well with Denver media and sports fans, as the unfair tag was being consistently referenced by certain members of the national sports media.
Vic Lombardi of Altitude Sports Radio in Denver, along with several of his co-workers, decided to fight against a narrative they found uneducated and unfair. In their eyes, all you had to do this season was to actually watch the Nuggets to find them interesting.
“We assume everyone else knows what we know,” said Lombardi. “We assume that the rest of the country is watching. And all this has done, to be honest with you, has proven that a lot of national folks don’t watch as carefully as they say they do. Because if they watched they wouldn’t be as surprised as they are right now.”
There was even an on-air spat with Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated on the Altitude Sports Radio airwaves. During an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show, Mannix said there weren’t any compelling or interesting storylines surrounding the Nuggets first-ever NBA Finals appearance.
Lombardi, along with other hosts at Altitude Sports Radio took exception to the comment and fired back with their thoughts. A few days later, Mannix appeared on the station to defend his position and stick up for what he thought was accurate. Though the tensions were high during the back-and-forth it was incredible content for the station.
But Lombardi says he doesn’t take the spats, whether they’re public or private, all that seriously when other fellow media members.
“The arguments, if they’re anything, they’re all in fun,” said Lombardi. “I don’t take this stuff personally. We had a little back and forth with Chris Mannix. That was fun. I actually saw him in Denver when he came out for media. I respect anyone who’s willing to make their point on the air. It’s not the media’s job, it’s not your job as a host or a writer to tell me what I find compelling or interesting. We’re all from different parts with different needs and you can’t tell me what I desire. Let me pick that. Chase a story because the public may learn something. We’re curious by nature, that’s why we got into this business. All I ask is be more curious.”
The entire team at Altitude Sports Radio did an incredible job of sticking up for their own market and creating memorable content out of it. That should be celebrated inside the station’s walls. None of the outrage was forced; it was all genuine. But what’s the lesson to learn here from media folks, both local and national with this story?
“I think the takeaway is number one, it’s a business,” said Lombardi. “I keep telling people they’re going to go where the money is. The money is the Lakers and the big city teams. The Nuggets don’t sell.
“Well, you start selling when you start winning. They’ve got to sort of earn their way into that club. I think with what the Nuggets have done recently, and hopefully with what they’re about to do, they’re at the adult table. The media business is not unlike anything else. The biggest common denominator is what sells. I get that. I just don’t understand why a team like this, with the most unique player most people have ever seen, why wouldn’t that sell?”
Maybe it’s still not selling nationally, but locally in Denver, Nuggets talk is on fire. For years, the Denver market has been seen as one where the Broncos and NFL rule. The Nuggets have not been close to the top of Denver sports fans’ interests and have probably fallen routinely behind the Avalanche.
But there’s been a real craving for Nuggets talk during this historic run. Granted, it didn’t just start two weeks ago, there’s been momentum building for the team ever since Nikola Jokic started asserting himself as one of the best players in the NBA. But there’s more than just an appetite for the Broncos in the city and the past few years have shown it.
“I think it’s just proven to people in the city that the town is much different than it was 10, 20, 30 years ago,” said Lombardi. “The Broncos continue to rule this town and will do so because the NFL is the NFL. But I can tell you this. There are sports fans outside the NFL. I’m born and raised in Denver and I always believed, what’s so wrong about being an ardent fan of every sport? If you’re a fan, you’re a fan. There’s nothing I hate more than territorializing sports. Like, ‘oh I’m just a football fan’. Or, ‘oh I’m just a hockey fan’. Why? Sports crosses all borders and boundaries.”
Lombardi and Altitude Sports Radio have settled into local coverage of the NBA Finals, rather than fighting with a national narrative. The payoff for the entire ride has been very rewarding for the station. It included what Lombardi called the “highest of highs” when the Nuggets beat the Lakers on their own floor. It even included one of the biggest events the city has seen in the last five years, when the Nuggets hosted its first-ever NBA Finals game last week.
The last few weeks could even be considered one of the most rewarding times in station history for Altitude Sports Radio.
“Our ratings have never been higher,” said Lombardi. “It’s a great display of, sometimes in the media, we think we know what the listener wants. We think we do and we try to force feed them. I think the national folks do that, but so do the local folks. You think they know, but if you give them a nice diet, they’ll choose what they want. And that’s what we’ve done.”
Tyler McComas is a columnist for BSM and a sports radio talk show host in Norman, OK where he hosts afternoon drive for SportsTalk 1400. You can find him on Twitter @Tyler_McComas or you can email him at TylerMcComas08@yahoo.com.
The Top 5 Bangs of Mike Breen’s Career
“Whether it comes in the playoffs or the regular season, it’s an unmistakable, yet simple way to convey the message that something extraordinary has just happened.”
Even though he isn’t thrilled by the moniker, Mike Breen has become the voice of the NBA. The veteran play-by-play announcer is too modest to brag about the name. He’s very respectful of those that have come before him. Whether or not he likes the title, for a certain generation of NBA fans, he’s the only television voice they’ve known.
Breen has occupied the big chair for ABC/ESPN since 2006 and is in the midst of calling his record 18th consecutive NBA Finals. Breen is professionalism personified, but the thing that separates him from most is his ability to infuse wit into his broadcasts. He’s not stuffy, and always seems to enjoy the moment.
“Bang!” is the word Breen has used for pretty much his entire career. He started using it as a student at Fordham. When he wasn’t calling games there, he’d watch from the stands and yell “Bang!” every time a Fordham player hit a shot. Then he took it to air. It’s taken off from there.
Breen’s “Bang!” is synonymous with a big moment. Whether it comes in the playoffs or the regular season, it’s an unmistakable, yet simple way to convey the message that something extraordinary has just happened.
With that in mind, I have compiled a list of the five best “BANG!” calls including a couple of Honorable Mentions. There really were no criteria, so the call could have come in the playoffs, or in a few cases the regular season.
DERRICK ROSE BUZZER BEATER 2015 EASTERN CONFERENCE SEMI FINALS
The Bulls were playing in front of a packed house at the United Center. They were trying to ride native son Derrick Rose to a series win over the Cavaliers. Game 3 of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinal v. Cleveland came down to the wire.
“Dunleavy, looking, finds Rose, Rose trying to get open, fires away….BANG! It’s over! The Bulls win at the buzzer! It still is a Madhouse on Madison as Derrick Rose nails the three. And the Bulls take a 2-1 lead in this Eastern Conference semifinal.”
KOBE BEATS THE SUNS AT THE BUZZER, 1ST ROUND, 2011 WESTERN CONFERENCE PLAYOFFS
This was a pretty simple, yet very effective call. After a key turnover by Steve Nash, the resulting jump ball finally got into the hands of Bryant.
“A one-point game…final seconds Bryant for the win….BANG!!”
There was a lot of silence after the call and the pictures were allowed to tell the incredible story.
#5 LIN-SANITY REIGNS IN TORONTO 2012
During the height of “Linsanity” Jeremy Lin hit a game winning three pointer at the buzzer on February 14, 2012. This was a regular season game in Toronto and the crowd was into it like it was game 7 of a playoff series. The call shows you that Breen succeeds when the game is intense and close late whether in the playoffs or a regular season game.
“Mike D’Antoni won’t call timeout and let the Raptors set up their D. The crowd on its feet here at the Air Canada Centre. Lin puts it up. Bang! Jeremy Lin from downtown and the Knicks take the lead! Amazing here at the Air Canada Centre. Five tenths of a second remaining. Lin-sanity continues.”
#4 ERIC GORDON 2019 GAME TYING BASKET V. THE CLIPPERS
Eric Gordon hit a tough double-clutch three-pointer to send this regular season game in 2019 against the Lakers into overtime. This one led Breen to pull out the rare double bang!
“They find Gordon. Gordon puts up a three. Bang! Bang! He ties the game!”
It wasn’t a playoff game or even a very memorable game overall. Perhaps Breen got caught up in the moment? It happens.
#3 LUCA DONCIC GAME 4 2020 WESTERN CONFERENCE FIRST ROUND V. CLIPPERS
Dallas was already down 2 games to 1 in the first round of the 2020 NBA playoffs in the Walt Disney World bubble. The Mavericks didn’t want their own bubble to burst, so they turned to Doncic. The Mavs were down 1 in OT with 3.7 seconds left to go. Luka Doncic took a dribble, created some space and let it fly.
“Doncic pulls up, three-pointer, BANG, BANG! IT’S GOOD, DONCIC WINS THE GAME AT THE BUZZER!” After a little time and some replays, Breen astutely added, “We are witnessing the next great star in the NBA, in his first playoff series.”
The rare double bang rears its head again. Kudos to Breen for generating this much excitement without any fans in the building. It’s pretty impressive and hard to do, just shows that he can rise to the moment without any help from the vibes in a building during a game.
#2 RAY ALLEN GAME TYING “3”, 2013 NBA FINALS GAME 6
This shot was one of the biggest in the career of Ray Allen. Playing for the Heat in the 2013 NBA Finals, he hit a crucial shot to send Game 6 into overtime. Breen made the moment iconic. “James catches, puts up a three, won’t go, rebound Bosh, back out to Allen, his three-pointer, BANG. TIE GAME WITH 5 SECONDS REMAINING!”
Breen’s voice captured the emotion of the moment, without being out of control. He recalled to the Athletic in 2020 what went into that call.
“I remember looking over at the Spurs’ bench. They were, I don’t want to trash them and say they were celebrating, but they were ready to celebrate. It was that giddiness, the hopping up and down, we’re about to win a championship.” Breen said. “It seemed like it was a foregone conclusion. And then, the thing about it, there had to be about six or seven things to fall into place for that to happen, over the last 30 seconds and every single one of them fell into place.”
#1 STEPH CURRY, 2016 GAME WINNNING “3” v. OKLAHOMA CITY
The original “double bang” game, came in 2016 as Steph Curry and the Warriors faced Oklahoma City in February. The Warriors entered 53-4 and Curry had already hit 11, 3-point field goals on the night. Who could blame Breen for getting caught up in this play? The game-winning and record-tying basket came from a spot on the floor that almost nobody hits from.
“They do have a timeout. Decide not to use it. Curry, way downtown. Bang! Bang! Oh, what a shot from Curry! With six tenths of a second remaining! The brilliant shooting of Stephen Curry continues. he ties the NBA record with his 12th three-pointer of the game.”
“Don’t ask me why or how it came out,” Mike Breen was quoted of saying after the game. “It was like an out-of-body experience.”
Breen’s effect on the players has been noted on a few occasions in recent months. 7 years after the call of Curry’s 40-footer, and the birth of the double-bang, Curry honored the call with a pair of his new shoes. They’re called the Curry 2 Bang Bang PE Retros. Curry delivered the shoes to Breen in person and included this video message:
“I realize there’s no way we can drop these without the involvement of the man who gave these shoes a nickname seven years ago. You’re the first person to get these in hand. We got a double bang and call in 2016, before it’s all said and done, I think I need a triple bang call from Mr. Mike Breen himself.”
Breen saw the shoes, then embraced Curry. He also shared a message of gratitude, saying “It’s an honor calling his games. And to have him say I have a small part of it means more than he knows and more than you can imagine. Thank you.”
Other players seem to really enjoy being immortalized with a “Bang!” Just the other day, Jamal Murray hit a three-pointer for Denver. Breen called the play, “back to Murray, another three-pointer. It’s good! Jamal Murray red hot.” Mark Jackson jumped in after noticing something after the shot. “Hey Mike, you didn’t see this, but Jamal Murray just looked over here and said BANG.” That’s pretty cool.
Breen continues to shine on the biggest stage of basketball, surely he’s setting up for another terrific run in this year’s finals.
Andy Masur is a columnist for BSM and works for WGN Radio as an anchor and play-by-play announcer. He also teaches broadcasting at the Illinois Media School. During his career he has called games for the Chicago Cubs, San Diego Padres and Chicago White Sox. He can be found on Twitter @Andy_Masur1 or you can reach him by email at Andy@Andy-Masur.com.
Meet the Market Managers: David Yadgaroff, Audacy Philadelphia
“It’s hard to replace somebody as iconic as Angelo, who really lived and breathed his role, setting the agenda for the Philadelphia sports fan.”
David Yadgaroff doesn’t talk just to hear himself speak. He gets to the point and he does it quickly, whether he is telling you what he is thinking or he is answering your questions. That fact is evidenced by the length of this week’s entry to the Meet the Market Managers series presented by Point-to-Point Marketing.
It has been a wild ride for WIP over the last 18 months. Yadgaroff had to find a new PD, figure out the best way to send off the station’s iconic morning host, and launch new shows in two different day parts. In the middle of it all were World Series and Super Bowl runs to deal with, too.
Yadgaroff discusses all of it. He also makes time to weigh in on how he addresses Audacy’s stock issues with his staff, the climate of political advertising, and the best practices he has found for making sure advertisers are making the most of digital products.
Demetri Ravanos: Tell me about life since Angelo Cataldi retired. What has changed in terms of the atmosphere in the building?
David Yadgaroff: It’s a great question. It’s hard to replace somebody as iconic as Angelo, who really lived and breathed his role, setting the agenda for the Philadelphia sports fan. But we’re really proud of what Joe (DeCamara), Jon (Ritchie), James (Seltzer), and Rhea (Hughes) have done in the morning to deliver a show that’s fresh and new, but also lives up to the expectation that Angelo set.
The addition of Hugh Douglas to midday with Joe Giglio has been very fun, too, because Hugh is a great character and teammate, and fun around the office, as well as very compelling and entertaining radio.
DR: So I do want to circle back on Jon and Joe here in just a second, but I do wonder, because Angelo had sort of made some hints before he officially announced his retirement. At the time you were looking for a new program director, was his decision about when to call that a career something that ever came up as you were searching for Spike’s successor? Is it something candidates wanted to know about?
DY: Yeah, absolutely. Angelo was a great partner and expressed his interest in retiring. At that time, Spike had got promoted to New York, so we discussed the radio station as a whole. Angelo, obviously his brand was so closely tied to ours and ours so closely tied to his, he said that he’d do whatever we needed at the radio station to make the transition smooth. That is how we ended up with that last year where Angelo took Wednesdays off to give him a little bit of rest and peace as he finished out his agreement. Then, obviously, he wanted to remain on until the Eagles’ season finally ended, so we had the gift of having Angelo with us until February.
DR: Let’s circle back on Joe and Jon. They are obviously known commodities to WIP’s advertisers. The job of getting that particular population on board with those guys moving into mornings, it’s very different than getting listeners on board, right? So many of your advertisers are going to be on in multiple dayparts, whereas the listeners may only come in on their drive to work or on their drive home from work. I would imagine on the business side, this was a pretty smooth transition.
DY: Very smooth. We retained the vast majority of the legacy morning show advertisers, as well as retaining the advertisers that came from middays to mornings. The fresh perspective and excitement about the radio station helped drive more sales as well.
You think about the last 12 months of the radio station, Angelo is talking about his farewell, we’re doing a lot of fun stunts about that time, the Phillies postseason, the Eagles postseason, the farewell event, and officially the beginning of a new show that already was a fan favorite. Really, we are very fortunate to have been at the forefront of the sports media narrative in Philadelphia for quite some time.
DR: The elephant in the room when it comes to Audacy right now is what’s going on with the company’s stock price. I know you cannot give me specific answers, but I do wonder, as somebody that is charged with leading a cluster, you have so many people that you are responsible for. Do you find yourself having conversations where you’re talking to someone that assumes you have more answers than you actually do right now?
DY: Let me give you the general vibe. We have a very robust business with six radio stations creating a lot of multi-platform content, selling a lot of advertising, and doing fun things. So for our staff on this side of the building, it’s business as usual. We’re having success in many metrics and marching right along.
DR: The thing I wonder about that’s different for you than other Audacy stations is you literally share a space with Audacy Corporate.
DY: I run a culture of transparency and when things happen that are newsworthy, I make sure to address them. When things aren’t newsworthy, I try to reinforce our core business here, which is one that is very profitable and healthy.
DR: So last year was extraordinary sports-wise in Philadelphia. Tell me a bit about the new opportunities that were created for WIP, whether we’re talking about interest from new potential clients or an influx of new listeners.
DY: So WIP has the benefit of being the voice of the fan for decades. We talk a lot about the Eagles. Fans want to talk Eagles 52 weeks a year, and when the Eagles perform, there’s such enthusiasm and excitement. So, yes, I think we pick up new listeners and I know we pick up new advertisers to be part of that fun.
The Phillies’ season sort of picked up suddenly at the end. It was a much more concentrated and exciting time that everybody just got into from an advertising standpoint, analyst standpoint, and fan standpoint. It was a lot of excitement in a very short period of time.
DR: Given how much Audacy has embraced digital products and where we are in terms of consumption these days, everybody is so used to on-demand content. Nobody works on a station or network’s timetable anymore. Have you found any advertisers that are more interested in the on-demand product than the traditional radio broadcast?
DY: I don’t think there’s a general statement that describes everyone’s appetite. We focus our salespeople on trying to sell multi-platform campaigns through re-marketing. We find that the more things advertisers are invested in, the more connected they are with our business and the more success they have. All of our salespeople are cross-trained. Ultimately, we try to focus on what an advertiser needs and then make successful recommendations for them. There’s a lot of attention on WIP, so obviously they’re doing a nice job of that.
DR: Let’s talk about that cross-training as it relates to the stations in the cluster. I recently read this piece that said we are already on pace to see political advertising for the 2024 election cycle surpass what we spent in 2020. Last year, you guys have these two contentious elections inside of Pennsylvania. When it comes to revenue generation, has the fracture between the two parties been relatively good for business in radio? I mean, do you find that people that candidates are advertising further and further out from election day now?
DY: I think there’s two folds to that question. One is the TV advertising environment gets so toxic and nasty with political ads. It forces out transactional advertisers. That gives us the opportunity to put those advertisers on the radio. So that’s one part. The second part of it is, yes, candidates for PACs are spending more and they’re spending more frequently.
DR: I would imagine that KYW and WPHT see most of those buys in your cluster, but what about WIP? How much are those PACs and candidates and those campaigns looking to a format to spread their message where maybe the listener is not engaged in the political conversation 24 hours a day?
DY: I think the first thought is that stations like KYW and PHT do the best, but it really depends on the campaign and the issue and what their strategy is. I mean, there are some issues and campaigns that come down that they can only want to buy. WBEB And WOGL because they are looking for a suburban mom. So it really depends. I think political advertisers are a lot more strategic than they were years ago where they just bought news and news talk.
Demetri Ravanos is the Assistant Content Director for Barrett Sports Media. He hosts the Chewing Clock and Media Noise podcasts. He occasionally fills in on stations across the Carolinas. Previous stops include WAVH and WZEW in Mobile, AL, WBPT in Birmingham, AL and WBBB, WPTK and WDNC in Raleigh, NC. You can find him on Twitter @DemetriRavanos and reach him by email at DemetriTheGreek@gmail.com.