Knowing how legends can grow, Reggie Willits took some time to clear up one particular matter. It seems like the story about how he ended up as No. 77 is taking on a life of its own. In a recent sidebar in ESPN’s magazine, Willits was praised for his rookie success. But the story happened to mention how Willits wears No. 77 as a tribute to Mickey Mantle, who wore No. 7 with the Yankees. That would be incorrect. Willits actually wears his number because it is double the number Kenny Lofton wore when Lofton was setting himself apart as the ideal leadoff man years ago with the Cleveland Indians. Willits was growing up when Lofton was running wild with the Indians and Willits patterned his early game after Lofton.
Willits doesn’t blame the guy at ESPN. He probably got the Mantle story from another publication that made the leap on its own in a previous article. Willits said he knows how it must have happened. Mantle was a native of Oklahoma and was offered a football scholarship by the University of Oklahoma (he signed with the Yankees instead). Willits also was born and raised in Oklahoma and actually did become a Sooner where he played baseball.
As for the Mantle story, it never really did bother Willits. “He was a great player too,” Willits said. He just figured he would set the record straight.
For an entertaining read on what Willits’ success has meant to the Angels, see the feature story from the L.A. Newspaper Group’s Paul Oberjuerge titled “Big little Angel.”