Willie Mays Faced Bias When He Wanted to Buy a House

Harold FriendChief Writer IApril 8, 2009

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - MARCH 1:  Hall of Famer Willie Mays gives actor Rob Schnieder batting instuctions during San Francisco Giants Spring Training on March 1, 2006 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Tom Hauck/Getty Images)

When baseball fans root for a player on their team, they want that player to help the team win. The player's nationality, skin color, or politics are of little concern. All that matters is the uniform.

But away from the playing field, things often are different.

Location Problems

The New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers ceased to exist after the 1957 season, when Walter O'Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles and Horace Stoneham took the Giants to San Francisco.

In November, one of the Giants' players was in the process of purchasing a home in San Francisco, but he was confronted by some problems because the house was located in an all-white neighborhood.

Willie Mays wanted to buy a house on Miraloma Drive, next to St. Francis Wood, which was an exclusive community in the western hills of the city. On November 14, Walter A. Gnesdiloff accepted Willie's check to complete the sale, but not before there had been some intrigue.

Neighborhood Residents Put Pressure On the Seller

Mr. Gnesdiloff wanted to sell the house to Willie, but he turned down Willie's first offer because heavy pressure had been put on him from neighborhood residents. Mr. Gnesdiloff, who was a home builder, feared that if he sold to a Negro in an all-white area, he would be denied work.

Willie's wife revealed that one of the most vehement opponents to the sale was "a foreigner, not even an American." She continued, "We were born in the United States and this is our country, yet this man raises objections to us."

Willie Mays Receives Help

The San Francisco National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, Mayor George Christopher, and the San Francisco Council for Civic Unity took action when they discovered that Willie' offer had been rejected because of his skin color. Willie got the house.

Mr. Gnesdiloff explained, "I had several other offers, but Willie's was the first and I decided it should be first come, first served. The people of San Francisco want him to live here, so we decided to let him have it."

Jackie Robinson's Views

Jackie Robinson, who had some experience with bias, was extremely upset, especially because he thought the incident would hurt America.

"This will hurt American overseas and unite the Negro at home. We've got to wake up here in America. In India and in the Communist countries, this is going to be played up. It's going to hurt."

Baseball Helps Defeat Bigotry

Things have changed since Willie bought his house 52 years ago, but what is most significant is that sports, especially baseball, makes humans act in opposition to their bigotry.

During the game, the most vehement racist will be concerned only with the fact that Willie Mays is a Giant and that Jackie Robinson is a Dodger. She pulls for Willie because, like Willie, she is also a Giant.

She hates Jackie Robinson because he is Dodger, not because he is black. She will root for Willie and she hates Sal Maglie because Sal pitcher for the Dodgers.

At least, she feels that way until the game is over.


WILLIE MAYS WINS A HOUSING DISPUTE: Negro Star Buys Dwelling in San Francisco After a Racial Controversy Neighbors' Pressure Cited Feared a Boycott Jackie Robinson Comments Water Service Cut Off. (1957, November 15). New York Times (1857-Current file),20. Retrieved April 8, 2009, from ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851 - 2005) database. (Document ID: 84783026).