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Plums, Not Peaches

The story of Jersey produce and a very special baseball glove.

This 1960 Gold Glove, one of 12 garnered by Willie Mays in his career, is on display at Bridgeton’s All Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.
by Mickey Brandt
Mays donated it to the Bridgeton facility for a box of plums from Bridgeton sports and entertainment promoter Bob Rose.
Mays donated it to the Bridgeton facility for a box of plums from Bridgeton sports and entertainment promoter Bob Rose.

Major League Baseball star for the ages Willie Mays, who passed away on June 18 at age 93, left a stellar legacy in many places across sports and the broader society. One of these places is right here in Bridgeton.

The story of Willie Mays, the city, and the time-honored Bridgeton Invitational Semi-Pro Baseball Tournament seems apocryphal, but those who were there and those who’ve heard the legendary story swear it’s true.

A priceless Gold Glove trophy belonging to likely the greatest icon to ever play the game, traded for a box of South Jersey plums.

Filling the role of Jack in this Jack and the Beanstalk style tale is long-time local sports and entertainment promoter and former Bridgeton Recreation Director Bob Rose.

This story begins in 1980, seven years after Mays’ retirement from baseball. In the early casino era in Atlantic City, he was hired by Bally’s as a goodwill ambassador. At the same time, Bridgeton’s baseball tournament was in its heyday. Teams from throughout the mid-Atlantic region competed for the championship at the retro and picturesque Alden Field. The event was a carnival of great baseball, great food, great entertainment, and many special guests from the world of sports.

One of these guests was Willie Mays.

The story continues while he was travelling to Bridgeton for the first time. Here’s how Rose tells it:

“So, we got Willie Mays to come to Bridgeton, but the limo driver got lost. Willie was a little upset—first because he was late and then because the little baseball field with the old wooden grandstand and cozy feeling apparently brought back very emotional memories for him.

“So, we had a little room in the press box called the ‘Celebrity Room.’ Jerry Alden [founder of the tournament played on the field named for him] took Willie in there and gradually calmed him down. I think it was mostly they were the same generation and could relate.

“As we were coming out the celebrity exit to the field, [a local orchard owner] presented him with a case of peaches. I remember Willie clearly saying why would you give a guy from the south a case of peaches. I ask why he said that and Willie told me, ‘I prefer plums.’

“So, I said I’ll get you a case of plums for a Gold Glove. I’ll never forget that. He said, ‘You have a deal.’

“I think he knew about the Bridgeton Hall of Fame, and Willie said, ‘I’m going to give you guys a Gold Glove for your museum over there because you’re giving me a case of plums.’”

Rose said he believed it and very soon his faith was rewarded.

“I think Bally’s brought Willie and the Gold Glove to Bridgeton, he said. “But I can remember giving him the plums, I handed him the case of plums.

“Willie was wearing a sweater that said ‘The Say Hey Kid’—his nickname, of course. So, Kenny Fisher was there and he just said why don’t you give me the sweater? And Willie took off the sweater and handed it to Kenny. So that’s in the exhibit as well,” Rose concluded.

Or, not quite concluded. He told me there was a poignant sequel.

“A year or so later, at an Atlantic City trade show for tourism, the Bally’s booth was coincidentally set up right next to our Cumberland County one and Willie’s there—everything fell into place. I had Richie Kates there [now deceased, the Bridgeton resident was a light heavyweight contender and top boxer in the 1970s and ’80s.]

“Richie said ‘Hey, Willie, he’s going to sell that glove you gave him.’ Willie said sharply, ‘He better not!’ He said that if you’re going to sell the glove, I want it back.” Then, they all shared a laugh.

It seems some memorabilia collectors think such an item is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars or even more.

Then, Rose did conclude and summarized this story:

“When we got Willie here, he found out more than he ever thought he would walk into; it brought tears to his eyes. Alden Feld became his own Field of Dreams.

“His emotional reaction to the field was the key to why he became dedicated to Bridgeton and would help out like that.

“And I’ve always been known as somebody who says what he thinks,” Rose said. “I say what I want, I don’t care. You never know the answer if you don’t ask the question.”

So, he asked.

The Gold Glove

The Rawlings Gold Glove Award, usually referred to as simply the Gold Glove or Golden Glove, is the award given annually to the Major League Baseball (MLB) players judged to have exhibited superior individual fielding performances at each fielding position in both the National League (NL) and the American League (AL). The Gold Glove is widely considered one of the most prestigious defensive awards in baseball.

In 1957, the baseball glove manufacturer Rawlings created the Gold Glove Award to commemorate the best fielding performance at each position. Winners receive a glove made from gold lamé-tanned leather and affixed to a walnut base.

Willie Mays won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves as a center fielder, beginning in its first year. There’s another tale, which could be true or not. Mays may have pointed out, “If there was a Gold Glove when I started my career, I would have won them all.”


(One of) The Greatest

  • Birth Name: Willie Howard Mays, Jr.
  • Born: May 6, 1931
  • Birthplace: Westfield, Alabama
  • Died: June 18, 2024
  • Place of Death: Palo Alto, California
  • High School: Fairfield Industrial High School (Fairfield, AL)
  • College: None Attended
  • *First MLB Game: May 25, 1951 (Age 20)
  • Last Game: Sept. 9, 1973 (Age 42)
  • Nickname: Buck, Say Hey or The Say Hey Kid

Significant Awards

  • 1951 Rookie of the Year Award (BBWAA)
  • 1951 Rookie of the Year Award (Sporting News)
  • 1954 Associated Press Athlete of the Year Award
  • 1954 Most Valuable Player Award (BBWAA)
  • 1963 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award
  • 1965 Most Valuable Player Award (BBWAA)
  • 1968 All-Star Game Most Valuable Player Award
  • 1971 Roberto Clemente Award
  • 1979 National Baseball Hall of Fame
  • 2015 Presidential Medal of Freedom

*He played with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League from 1948 until the New York Giants signed him upon his graduation from high school in 1950.

On June 17, Mays released his final public statement saying he chose to stay in California and was not able to attend the special MLB game at Rickwood Field in Birmingham between the Giants and Cardinals on June 20. He died of heart failure the next day. That game was scheduled last winter as an honor to him and other Negro League players. Rickwood Field was the location of Mays’ first professional game and, built in 1910, is the oldest professional baseball field in the U.S.


Bridgeton Hall of Fame

The Bridgeton Sports Hall of Fame All Sports Museum, which opened in 1975, changed its name to the All Sports Museum of Southern New Jersey in 2010.

It’s at 18 Burt St. in Bridgeton.

In addition to Willie Mays’ 1960 Gold Glove Award, it holds, Leon “Goose” Goslin’s personal collection, a Mike Trout memorabilia display, and hundreds of other prominent donated items

There is no admission or parking fee for visitors to tour the All Sports Museum on Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Group tours are welcome. For groups of 10 or more, call two days before your visit.

For tour arrangements, call 856-455-6361, 609-319-3873, or 609-364-5077