WASHINGTON — The president of Crown Books said Monday that baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays tarnished his hero image when he charged $10 for autographs during a stop here on a book-signing tour.
Mays denied that. "I didn't take a dime," he said from his home in Palo Alto, Calif. Crown officials later confirmed that Mays left behind the $230 that had been collected.
Mays made a three-week tour this spring to promote his book, "Say Hey: The Autobiography of Willie Mays."
Robert Haft, president of the Crown Books discount bookstore chain, said that when Mays stopped here May 20, he apparently became angry when he was asked to sign baseballs and gloves as well as his book.
"We never imagined Willie Mays would ever ask our customers for cash," Haft said. "People came in with baseballs and gloves, and he got angry about it."
The mother of one youngster said that her 11-year-old son, Kevin Ewoldt, began crying when he learned he would have to pay $10 for Mays' signature.
In a letter to the editor in last Friday's Washington Post, Eileen Vaughan of Kensington, Md., wrote that against her better judgment she gave her son the money. After getting Mays' autograph, Vaughan said her son had said to her, "He must be really poor."
Mays, who played for the Giants in New York and San Francisco before ending his career with the New York Mets in 1973, said the situation was very different.
"At the end of book signing, all the books were signed," he said. "People came up to me and said they paid $10 to have balls signed. I said, 'OK,' and they put the money on the table.
"I didn't take the money. I left the money right on the table."
Mays, 57, said that if he had seen the youngster crying he would have made sure the boy got an autographed baseball free.
Jose Gonzalez, a Crown Books vice president, said Mays collected $230 and "when he was about to leave, he left it on the table."
Of the $230, Gonzalez said $170 was returned to those who said they paid for autographs and the rest was donated to a local youth baseball league.
Said a Crown employee who was at the store at the time of Mays' appearance: "He told people '$10 for an autograph.' Those were his exact words. When I found out, I couldn't believe it."
The employee also said that no Crown employee was involved in collecting money for autographs.
But Lisa Kitei, a publicist with Simon and Schuster, which published Mays' book, said: "The bookstore was charging for his autographs after they ran out of books."
Kitei said it was her understanding the store waited for a week to return money "in case a customer came back and complained."