In Cuba, land of universal baseball worship, no major league game has been on TV since the revolution.
"That does not matter," said former Washington pitcher Connie Marrero last year in Havana. "Our young players have missed nothing of importance. We still have our training films of Willie Mays from 20 years ago.
"It is still true, is it not," asked Marrero with distinct concern, "that American baseball has not produced another Mays?"
Marrero, of course, remains painfully coorect.
Since age claimed much of Mays' talent, and even some of his joy, more than a decade ago, America has had no Mays. In fact, no one close.
In a century, baseball has produced only two players who came close to encapsulating both the spirit and the substance of the modern game -- Babe Ruth and Willie Mays.
Only Ruth stood supreme at each end of the mound-to-home plate fulcrum around which the delicate percentages of the game teeter. He alone proved that those antithetical species -- the pitcher and hitter -- could form one hybrid.
And only Mays, in a hundred years, has been an unquestioned master of all the game's everyday tasks. Mays holds no all-time records, except for jubilance, and was not the best in history at any single skill. Yet, arguably, he was the first total star who shone simultaneously in all quadrants of the baseball sky.
Of baseball's handful of lasting artists -- probably a dozen or fewer -- none seemed to have the abstract, theoretical purity of Ruth and Mays, not to mention their animal delight in the game.
Others have advanced the craft of the sport, inventing a hit-and-run or refining a new pitch such as the slider. But, perhaps, only Ruth and Mays make us feel that the game came into being so they could show us its full and unexpected possibilities.
The fires that fed Ty Cobb smelled too much of sulfurous neurosis to represent a game of summer grass and blue-sky sanity. Hank Aaron simmered long and warmly, but at too low a flame to captivate the romantic as well as the statistical imagination.
Honus Wagner (limited by the deadball game), Joe DiMaggio (who seldom stole a base), Ted Williams (who ignored defense) -- the list is long of sterling players who deserve better than to be denigrated because their luster could not outshine Mays' gold.
But, should baseball last a millennium and be played in outer space, those names probably will be mentioned, when the 20th century is chuckled over, after the names Ruth and Mays.
Both the bandy-legged Babe, with his appetite for booze and broads during Prohibition, and the Say Hey Kid, with his stick-ball-in-Harlem innocence in the years between Korea and Vietnam, represent eras that transformed and invigorated the sport.
Ruth, broadly speaking, saved the game after the Black Sox scandal of 1919 by inventing the home run (with 54 in 1920. Ruth was more than a drawing card. He was a new species.
Mays ushered in the '50s wave of multiskilled black stars who combined speed with power and sharpened the conception of how many skills one player could have.
Until Mays, no one conceived that the same body that could produce 52 homers, 141 RBI and a.347 average, could also steal 40 bases, amass 20 triples and play center field as well as Tris Speaker.
That generation of versatile and glamorous blacks -- Mays, Aaron, Ernie Banks, Frank Robinson -- helped protect baseball from the huge siphoning off of top athletes by pro football and basketball in the 1960s and '70s.
When Leo Durocher, a roommate of Ruth's saw Mays, he understood instantly that, like the Sultan of Swat, Mays was a new branch on baseball's evolutionary tree.
"For my money," said the Lip, "Willie's the best. No one in history has combined the basic skills -- fielding, throwing, running, hitting for average and hitting for power -- as well as Mays."
Thus, in Mays' rookie year, Durocher issued the earliest and perhaps the best evaluation of the Giant center fielder.
Mays The Drawing Card also had a Ruthian extra dimension. If Jackie Robinson clawed for acceptance and demanded dignity, Mays was the first black player it was impossible not to love. As was Ruth, he was totally disarming, a natural.
And, like Ruth, he was utterly unable to articulate his skills, constantly saying of his great plays, "It's the onliest way I know how."
Ruth and Mays were the game's two wild children -- creatures of the ribald locker room who loved nothing more than play, high jinks and laughter, nothing less than solemnity, age and society at large.
Perhaps inevitably, Mays at 47 is tinged with bitterness and an unbecoming bruised vanity. He was never subtle and has not acquired the knack.
"I wa the best ballplayer I ever saw," Mays said this week after becoming the ninth player ever to reach the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. "Nobody in the world could do the things on a baseball field that I could."
That's true, certainly, but Mays has only himself to blame that he must now remind people of it.
Mays unquesionably tarnished his memory by playing his final seven years more in quest of money than exuberance.
Mays gas endured other slings and arrows: two divorces, a lukewarm San Francisco fandom, and the embarrassment in retirement of realizing that baseball has no visible role for him to play.
Instead of "Say, hey," -- the salutation of his youth -- Mays now greets friends with a more world-weary all-purpose expression, "Hey, whatever makes sense."
Mays, without spikes, glove and ball, is an everyday fellow, Parsing his personality is sparse work.
It must be left to Williams to stamp his character on the science of hitting, or to Pete Rose to subdue the sport with infinite doggedness and pep.
Mays may be gregarious, even earthily hilarious, in private with his equals -- that is, any athlete. But outside that closed fraternity, Mays is always taut -- not nervous, just perpetually wary and a trifle annoyed.
That, however is mundane -- the stuff of daily life, not athletic immortality.
And, make no mistake, Willie Mays has left a record, and more important, a memory, that will only grow more vivid, like those worn-thin films in Cuba, with each passing decade.