Baseball legend Willie Mays, all-around great of America’s pastime, dead at 93


This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

Baseball legend Willie Mays, all-around great of America’s pastime, dead at 93

LEGEND. Baseball icon Willie Mays is a two-time MVP and 12-time Gold Glove Award winner.


Willie Mays brought an explosive exuberance to baseball in his peak years, virtually capable of doing it all on the field

Willie Mays, the Hall of Fame centerfielder whose all-around skills made him one of the greatest baseball players of all time, died on Tuesday, June 18, at the age of 93, Major League Baseball announced.

Mays, who brought an explosive exuberance to the game in his peak years, died of heart failure, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

Mays played 23 seasons for the New York Giants, San Francisco Giants, and New York Mets, from 1951 through 1973.

In his prime, he could do it all on the baseball field. Mays was the epitome of what came to be known as a “five-tool player” – meaning he was exceptional at hitting for average, hitting for power, fielding, throwing and baserunning.

But Mays’ talent was only part of what made him a superstar. He also played with a verve and passion that were discernible even to spectators in the cheap seats. He was known for playing stickball with kids on the streets of Harlem, near the former Polo Grounds where he played.

In the real games, fans delighted when Mays would sprint with such speed and fury that he would run out from under his hat as he stole a base or chased down a flyball to deep centerfield.

His snag of a fly ball in the 1954 World Series, sprinting with his back toward home plate some 460 feet away, is known simply as The Catch.

“He could do everything and do it better than anyone else, (and) with a joyous grace,” wrote New York Times sports columnist Arthur Daley.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” Michael Mays said. “I want to thank you all from the bottom of my broken heart for the unwavering love you have shown him over the years. You have been his life’s blood.”

Mays, known as “The Say Hey Kid” because of his standard greeting, was ranked second on The Sporting News’ 1998 list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players – behind Babe Ruth and ahead of Ty Cobb. ranks him fifth all time using the modern statistic Wins Above Replacement, which measures a player’s overall value, behind Ruth, pitchers Walter Johnson and Cy Young, and his godson Barry Bonds.

Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility, won the Most Valuable Player award twice and was named to the all-star team 24 times, a record shared only with Hank Aaron and Stan Musial.

When he retired, Mays held third place on the all-time home run list with 660, behind Aaron at 755 and Ruth with 714. He was also the first ballplayer to hit 300 homers and steal 300 bases.

“Today we have lost a true legend,” Giants chairman Greg Johnson said in a statement. “In the pantheon of baseball greats, Willie Mays’ combination of tremendous talent, keen intellect, showmanship, and boundless joy set him apart.

“A 24-time All-Star, the Say Hey Kid is the ultimate Forever Giant. He had a profound influence not only on the game of baseball, but on the fabric of America. He was an inspiration and a hero who will be forever remembered and deeply missed.”

Willie Howard Mays Jr. was born in the gritty steel town of Westfield, Alabama, on May 6, 1931, during the segregation era and was inspired early to play ball by his father and an uncle, he said.

“My uncle would say every day, ‘You’re going to be a baseball player. You’re going to be a baseball player, and we’re gonna see to that,'” he said. “At 10, I was playing against 18-year-old guys. At 15, I was playing professional ball with the Birmingham Black Barons, so I really came very quickly in all sports.”

Mays joined the New York Giants of the National League early in the 1951 season, four years after Jackie Robinson had integrated Major League Baseball. He failed to get a hit in his first 12 trips to the plate before smacking his first, a home run off future Hall of Fame pitcher Warren Spahn.

Mays went on to win Rookie of the Year honors in 1951 with a .274 average, helping the Giants come from 13 games behind the Brooklyn Dodgers before his team won the pennant on a legendary home run by Bobby Thomson. Mays, then 20 years old, was on deck when Thomson hit his home run, later telling reporters he was so nervous he prayed he would not come to bat.

Mays missed most of the 1952 season and all of 1953 while serving in the US Army during the Korean War, spending much of his service time playing for the Army baseball team.

He returned to the Giants in 1954 and won the first of his two Most Valuable Player awards as he paced the Giants to a four-game World Series sweep of the Cleveland Indians. In the first game of that series, Mays pulled off The Catch, which remains one of the most memorable plays in baseball history.

At New York’s Polo Grounds, the Indians’ Vic Wertz hit a shot to deep centerfield. Mays turned, sprinted toward the wall, made a graceful over-the-shoulder catch and then immediately whirled around and made a perfect throw that kept two Cleveland baserunners from advancing.

“I was a guy, when I first came up, I believed I could catch any ball that stayed in the ballpark,” Mays told an interviewer years later. “I guess I was kind of a cocky kid, knowing that if the ball went up, I could catch it.”

In 1958, the Giants moved to San Francisco, where Mays was not quite so beloved. Fans crowding into tiny Seals Stadium, the Giants’ first home, instead embraced rookie sensations Orlando Cepeda and Willie McCovey as their own.

“Mays never was to San Francisco what he was to New York,” wrote sportswriter Dick Young. “When the Giants moved to California, the San Francisco fans saw Mays as ‘of’ New York.”

The Giants moved into cavernous and windy Candlestick Park in 1960, robbing Mays of many home runs that would have gone out in a more typical ballpark.

But Mays still possessed extraordinary skills and in 1962, carried the Giants to another playoff win over the Dodgers and into the World Series.

The series was a seven-game spellbinder won by the New York Yankees when Bobby Richardson speared a line drive for the final out of the game with Mays on second base, representing what would have been the winning run.

“All of Major League Baseball is in mourning today as we are gathered at the very ballpark where a career and a legacy like no other began,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement, issued from Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, ahead of Thursday’s Negro Leagues tribute game.

“Willie Mays took his all-around brilliance from the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League to the historic Giants franchise.

“From coast to coast in New York and San Francisco, Willie inspired generations of players and fans as the game grew and truly earned its place as our National Pastime.”

Mays had told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier this week that he would not be able to get to Birmingham for the game, which will pit the St. Louis Cardinals against the Giants.

“My heart will be with all of you who are honoring the Negro League ballplayers, who should always be remembered, including all my teammates on the Black Barons,” Mays said in a statement to the Chronicle on Monday. “I wanted to thank Major League Baseball, the Giants, the Cardinals and all the fans who’ll be at Rickwood or watching the game.

“It’ll be a special day, and I hope the kids will enjoy it and be inspired by it.”

By the late 1960s, Mays was slowing down. In May 1972, he was traded to the New York Mets and made a final World Series appearance in 1973, his last season, when the Mets lost to the Oakland Athletics in seven games. He retired later that year.

In his book “Willie’s Time,” baseball writer and historian Charles Einstein wrote:

“The lights were hot and the cameras rolled and you knew Willie was there because you heard that laugh. Came The Automatic Question: ‘Who was the greatest player you ever saw?’ His answer was prompt enough: ‘I thought I was.’ There was merriment in his eyes as he looked around the room. ‘I hope I didn’t say that wrong.'” –

Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!