Thoughts on Leadership: Willie and Billy (An Unexpected Story You’ll Want to Read)

By Gino Blefari

This week my travels found me starting at home on Monday taking my typical WIG calls. On Tuesday, I participated in the weekly Berkshire Hathaway Energy call and on Wednesday I participated in the celebration and launch event for Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Jordan Baris Realty. I also spent the week reading over and rehearsing for the upcoming Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention 2022 in Louisville.

Whenever I write these posts, I always receive incredible replies but when the last post about Willie Mays, written in celebration of Black History Month, was sent into the world, I received a response from William “Billy” Knox at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices California Properties that I just had to share.

It was June 1961. A 10-year-old Billy was staying at his neighbor’s house, five blocks down from his own.

“Cmon,” Billy said to his friend, Bobby. “Let’s get Willie’s autograph.”

He was of course, referring to the great Willie Mays, who just so happened to be temporarily staying at a home nearby while his custom-built mansion in Atherton – a small town in San Mateo County, California – was being built.

What happened next? Billy and Bobby decided it would be totally fine (and absolutely fun) to ring the doorbell of a temporary home belonging to a living legend, so they did it.

“We were just two kids going to the Giants game the next day,” Billy writes.

Willie’s wife, Marguerite, answered the door – in amazing $500 gold shoes – and said Willie wasn’t home but that the boys could come back tomorrow for an autograph.

“And you bet we did,” Billy says.

At 9 a.m. the next day, Billy and Bobby waited as patiently as two young kids about to meet their hero could, on the stoop of the Mays’ home for the now-promised autograph. Finally, Willie emerged, dressed in a yellow cardigan and brown slacks, sauntering with characteristic cool toward his lime-green Cadillac convertible. (“The one with those famous fins,” Billy describes.)

Sensing his opening, Billy asks for the autograph with more casual reserve than you’d expect from a 10-year-old baseball enthusiast and Willie agrees. The two boys follow him- “like puppies” – to his car when, as Billy explains, “a bolt of chutzpah hit me.”

He told Willie they had tickets to the game that day and wondered if he could give them a ride. Could you even imagine? Two children arriving at the Giants game in the Caddy of the team’s star player and arguably, the best player to ever set foot on the baseball field?

“Hop in the front, guys,” Willie says in a dreams-really-do-come-true moment for the two young fans.

But as soon as the boys got into the car, they realized they were missing a crucial element to the game: their tickets.

Willie asked where they lived and with the calm of an outfielder waiting to catch a long drive way back in center field, he drove the boys to Bobby’s house to retrieve the tickets.

Here’s how Billy describes what happened next: “Then the greatest hitter in the history of the game left his motor idling and waited patiently while we tore up the stairs to Bobby’s room to retrieve the tickets.”

So, they get the tickets and return to Willie’s car, this time traveling just one block before more trouble brews in the inning.

They forgot their lunch.

Without cell phones to instantly get in touch, they were worried their families would think something happened to them. (And would probably never guess they were simply riding in the lime-green Cadillac of Willie Mays to see him play that day.)

Willie goes back (again) and Billy writes: “To this day, I can still see my mom standing at our dining room picture window with her hands on her hips, mouth ajar, as the white top convertible sped off.”

What. A. Play.

But the inning wasn’t over yet. Bobby and Billy had planned to meet Billy’s 13-year-old brother and his friend at the game. When they all convened in their section, Billy told them Willie Mays drove them to Candlestick Park. Of course, the boys were skeptical – Who wouldn’t be? – but Billy had a plan. After the game ended, the baseball crew went to the lot where Willie was standing, ready to depart after yet another epic day of baseball. Willie Mays spotted Billy and pointed to his car. So, of course the boys did the next logical thing any baseball fan would do: They got into the back seat and told Billy’s brother and his friend to crouch down low, hidden from sight.

When Willie got into his car, he spotted the extra boys and asked who they were. Billy said, “Uh, uh, um, Willie, these are my brothers, and they were at the game and uh, we’re going back to my house. You wouldn’t mind giving them a ride too, would you?”

What could Willie say?

And that’s the story of how four 10- and 13-year-old boys from Northern California spent a day with Willie Mays. Says Billy: “One of my fondest memories of that ride home was viewing my brother’s friend, slipping his youthful hand into Willie’s legendary glove as it lay perched on the edge of the back seat.”

So, what’s the message? In this case, it’s that if you find yourself like William “Billy” Knox did, living a few doors down from your childhood hero, always ask him for a ride.

Respond to Thoughts on Leadership: Willie and Billy (An Unexpected Story You’ll Want to Read)

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