In his entire illustrious career, Willie Mays never hit a World Series home run, even though he had plenty of chances. But such are the vagaries of baseball that his namesake, Willie Mays Aikens, hit two in his very first game.
The twin two-run blasts couldn't avert a 7-6 Philadelphia victory in the opener of this year's classic, but they did give the personable Kansas City slugger his first real taste of the national spotlight -- and a chance to explain about his name.
It seems his mother wanted to name him Willie after an uncle, then the doctor who delivered him got carreid away and added the "Mays." The reason isn't hard to guess if you look at Willie's birth date of Oct. 14, 1954 -- just after the famous World Series in which Mays made that memorable, game-saving catch against Vic Wertz and led the old New York Giants to a four-game sweep of the favored Cleveland Indians.
Aikens says he has not yet met his famous namesake, but hopes to sometime -- and, in fact, made a special trip to Atlantic City, N.J., where Mays now works, in an unsuccessful attempt to catch up with him just before the start of the series.
"I have no problem with the name," he said in reply to a question, "but I would rather the announcers introduced me just as Willie Aikens. I feel more comfortable with it that way. They don't say 'George so-and-so Brett,' or 'Amos so-and-so Otis,' or any of the other middle names."
Of course, Willie does compound the problem by wearing Mays's old number, 24, making it appear he is trying to emphasize the association, but he says that's not really the case.
"I never wore this number before," he said. "When I was traded to the Royals from California I asked for No. 22 -- the same number I wore with the Angels -- but it was taken. They gave me five or six to choose from, and I took 24."
Aikens admits that he did hesitate a bit before making that decision.
"I don't want people to think I'm trying to copy Mays," he said. "I just want to be known for myself and my own accomplishments."
That's a little tough with both the name and the number of such a legendary figure. But the Philadelphia nnouncer in Game 2 complied with his request to drop the middle name. And if Willie Aikens keeps on hitting the way he has so far, he won't have any problem. Don't forget Ken Brett
The "other Brett" in the 1980 World Series never got the national attention being showered on his brother, George, this year, but Kansas City pitcher Ken Brett has had his own share of big moments in baseball. Among other things, he was the youngest pitcher in World Series history when he appeared briefly for Boston in 1967, three weeks after his 19th birthday, and he was the winning pitcher in the 1974 All-Star game as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
"It doesn't bother me to be called 'George's brother,'" he said in reply to the inevitable question. "I'm used to it. That's who I am."
At 32, Ken is five years older than George, who captivated the public this year by coming so close to hitting 400. Ironically, Ken was also quite a hitter as a youngster -- some say, in fact, that he was better than his brother -- and might well have made the major leagues in that capacity.
Even as a pitcher, prior to the designated hitter rule and then in his National League years, Ken always hit well. He set a major league record for pitchers, which still stands, in fact, when he hit home runs in four straight games in 1973 while playing for his opponents in this series, the Phillies. ("I think I could have been a big lague hitter," said Ken, who bears a striking family resemblance to his brother, "but the Red Sox wanted me to be a pitcher, so that's the way I went.")
Does he have any regrets -- especially in view of George's explosion on the scene as a national celebrity and his own less spectacular career (82 wins, 84 losses in an endless odyssey which has seen him play for 11 different big league teams)?
"It's useless to speculate about things like that," he said. "If you start saying 'What if?' you can go crazy."
Brett was just a hard-throwing, inexperience youngster put in to pitch to a few batters in the '67 series. Now, of course, he's at the other end of the spectrum, a veteran picked up late in the season to add a little experience and left-handed bullpen help. So whether he sees action -- and how much -- depends strictly on game situations.
"It wasn't really that big a thrill in '67," he says now."Not at the time anyway. I was too young to appreciate it. Being in this series means a lot more." Sizing up the early games
Philadelphia's power vs. Kansas City's speed, defense, and pitching was supposed to be the matchup in this year's series, but it didn't work out that way in the first two games in Veterans Stadium.
The supposedly light-hitting Royals, in fact, outslugged the Phillies in their own park three home runs to one, outhit them overall 20 to 19, and had a lot more people on the basepaths since they also received nearly twice as many walks.
It was the Phillies, though, who were playing the Kansas City game of hitting the ball in the gaps (five doubles) and racing around the bases to score as they won both contests, 7-6 and 6-4. On defense, Philadelphia also came out ahead, turning five double plays to help its pitchers out of several jams and benefitting from a botched rundown by the Royals in one key situation.
As for pitching, neither staff exactly sparkled, but the Phillies at least got the all-important relief efforts they needed from Tug McGraw and Ron Reed, while the Royals were disappointed by two of their mainstays, Dennis Leonard, who was knocked out early in the first game, and relief ace Dan Quisenberry, who failed to hold a lead and was the eventual second-game loser.