In a sense, Mays was too good for his own good. His athleticism and ebullience — e.g., playing stickball with children in Harlem streets — encouraged the perception of him as man-child effortlessly matched against grown men. He was called a “natural.” Oh? Extraordinary hand-eye coordination is a gift. There is, however, nothing natural about consistently making solid contact with a round bat on a round ball that is moving vertically, and horizontally, and 95 mph. Because Mays made the extraordinary seem routine, his craftsmanship and intelligence were underrated.

Even as a rookie, he would reach second base, decode the opposing catcher’s pitch signs, and tell the Giants’ dugout that, say, the third in each sequence was the actual sign. His base-running “instincts” actually were a meticulously honed craft: Although he played centerfield, he would take pre-game infield practice, reminding himself where infielders should position themselves to cut off throws from outfielders. Then when he got a hit, he could take an extra base if the infielders were out of position. Sometimes early in a game, Mays would intentionally swing at and miss a pitch he could easily have hit, thereby encouraging the pitcher to throw the pitch during a crucial late-inning at bat.