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Willie and Sy have excellent Cooperstown adventure ...

Some time tomorrow afternoon, a limousine is going to swing by Sy Berger’s home in suburban New York City. Sy, one of the great names in the card-collecting history of the last six decades, is going to jump into the car and head off to the wilds of Upstate New York and the tiny village of Cooperstown to take part in the various festivites that surround the annual induction ceremonies. And he’s going to do all this with his pal, Willie Mays, just as the duo has done for many years.

One of the many joys of my job is that Sy calls me from time to time to reminisce a bit, and he almost always mentions his enduring friendship with Willie. Berger’s characterization of Mays as a sweetheart of a guy may conflict a bit with a lot of conventional hobby wisdom about the Hall of Famer, but I don’t doubt for a minute the sincerity of his affection. They go back a very long way.

(Willie is pictured in an incredible painting by yet another well-known hobby figure, Mike Schacht.)

“Back in 1951, Willie was just a kid and I met him in the Giants locker room,” Berger told me in a 2000 interview for SCD. Sy is now 86 and Willie is all of 78, and they share a lifetime of memories that trace their lineage all the way back to the Polo Grounds that year.

“Willie was just a nervous kid, and since it was my first trip to a big-league locker room, I was nervous, too. As Willie says, he was scared and looking for a friendly face, and I walked in. I am probably one of his best and oldest friends.”

Sy befriended literally hundreds of ballplayers over the years as he waved those exclusive Topps contracts around major league dugouts and helped conceive and design some of the most beloved – and valuable – postwar baseball card sets ever created. His stories of wrasslin’ with Willie over just about every aspect of Mays’ cards are priceless, and it must have paid off because the great center fielder ended up nearly two dozen classics. They obviously would have been valuable just because they were his cards, but it’s pretty neat that they also were pretty uniformly wonderful pasteboards.

Just the thought of those two icons palling around for four days in that bucolic shrine to the greatest game on Earth is enough to bring a smile to my face. Also a nice reminder that there are baseball immortals who don’t end up on a bronze plaque but nonetheless have an unshakable claim to a role in the game’s lore and legend.

Have a nice weekend, guys.


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