You brightened my boyhood with your rare TV appearances, when you played like no one else. Everything you did was exciting: running the bases, making basket catches in centerfield, throwing the ball back to the infield, hitting home runs, legging out doubles and triples.
Back then, baseball played two all-star games each season, on daytime TV, and you glowed brighter than any of the other stars.
I followed your San Francisco Giants in box scores printed in the Baton Rouge State Times, and on radio when the Giants played the Cardinals or Astros. On special Saturday afternoons, you starred on NBC's Baseball Game of the Week.
Through books and magazine articles, I thrilled to your brilliant early days as the New York Giants' Say Hey Kid.
Arnold Hano's "A Day in the Bleachers" relived your over-the-shoulder catch of the long fly ball hit by the Indians' Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series.
After running down the ball in deep center field in the Polo Grounds, you spun and hurled a throw to the infield to keep an Indians runner from advancing. You always said the throw was greater than the catch.
I've watched video of the play many times, and it never loses its wonder. The picture of you going back, lit by sunshine as the ball falls toward your open glove, your No. 24, will be one of my last mental images as I leave this earth.
Happy 90th, Willie. No sports hero ever matched you.