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Willie Mays, passed away at the age of 93

The Giants’ dynamic “Say Hey Kid,” Willie Mays, passed away at the age of 93.

Known for his explosive “Say Hey Kid” persona and his unique blend of talent, passion, and exuberance that made him one of baseball’s most adored and greatest players, Willie Mays passed away. He was ninety-three.

Tuesday night, the San Francisco Giants and Mays’ family jointly confirmed that the baseball player had passed away in the Bay Area earlier in the day.

Son Michael Mays said in a club statement, “My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones.” From the bottom of my broken heart, I want to thank each and every one of you for your unflinching love for him over the years. His lifeblood has been you.

The center fielder was the oldest living Hall of Famer in baseball, having started his career in the Negro Leagues in 1948. In 1979, the year he became eligible, he was elected into the Hall of Fame. In 1999, The Sporting News listed him as the number one player in the game, behind only Babe Ruth. The Giants moved their AT&T Park in San Francisco to Willie Mays Plaza and retired his uniform number, 24.

Commissioner Rob Manfred stated, “Today, as we gather at the very ballpark where a career and a legacy like no other began, all of Major League Baseball is in mourning.” “Willie Mays brought his all-around skill to the storied Giants franchise after leaving the Negro American League’s Birmingham Black Barons. From coast to coast, Willie served as an inspiration to many players and spectators as the game developed and deservedly became our National Pastime.

Few people were as fortunate to possess all five of the key components of a superstar: throwing, speed, fielding, power, and average hitting. Fewer displayed such traits with such joy, whether hitting home runs, racing around the bases, tossing a loose-fitting cap over his head, or chasing down fly balls in center field before capping the effort with his signature basket catch.

Mays batted for 23 big league seasons, almost all spent with the New York/San Francisco Giants but one in the Negro Leagues as well.301, amassed 3,293 hits, scored over 2,000 runs, blasted 660 home runs, and took home 12 Gold Gloves. In 1951, he won Rookie of the Year. He also received two MVP awards and placed in the top 10 for the award ten more times. The most famous defensive play in baseball history was his lightning-fast dash and over-the-shoulder grab of an apparent extra-base hit in the 1954 World Series.

In 2010, Mays said to NPR, “When I played ball, I tried to make sure everybody enjoyed what I was doing.” “I had the clubhouse guy make me a cap that flies off when the wind picks up in the bottom.” People adore content like that.

In an era when baseball was still the quintessential sport, the smiling ballplayer with the cheerful, high-pitched voice was a signature athlete and showman for millions of people in the 1950s, 1960s, and beyond. President Barack Obama awarded Mays the Medal of Freedom in 2015, and he left his fans with a wealth of memories. However, a solitary accomplishment encapsulated his enchantment – so insurmountable that was dubbed “The Catch.”

The Cleveland Indians, who had won 111 games during the regular season and were heavy favorites in the postseason, took on the then-New York Giants in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. In the top of the eighth inning, the score was 2-2. With Larry Doby at second base and Al Rosen at first, Cleveland’s Vic Wertz took on reliever Don Liddle with no outs.

Wertz crushed a fastball to deep center field with the count 1-2. In a typical stadium, Wertz would have hit a home run or at least made an easy triple with a typical center fielder. However, the Polo Grounds’ peculiar center field wall was situated almost 450 feet away. Furthermore, there was nothing mediocre about Willie Mays’ abilities.

Even after viewing replays on video for decades, it still amazes people to see Mays sprint towards the wall with his back to home plate, extend his glove, and bring in a drive. The next play was even more amazing: Mays spun to the ground, but not before turning around and heaving the ball to the infield to stop Doby from scoring. Mays would gladly emphasize that “the throw” was just as crucial as “the catch.”

As soon as the ball was hit, Mays knew she would catch it, she said author James S. Hirsch, whose book was published in 2010.

“I keep thinking to myself as I’m running back, ‘Willie, you have to get this ball back to the infield.'”

Millions of people heard and saw “The Catch” on radio and the newly popularized television at the time, making Mays one of the first Black athletes to be popular in the mainstream media. He appeared as a guest star in sitcoms such as “Bewitched,” “The Donna Reed Show,” and others. In addition to being the subject of several songs, Terry Cashman’s 1980s novelty hit “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey & The Duke)” paid homage to the brief period in New York history when three future Hall of Famers—Mays, Mantle of the Yankees, and Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers—were centered around the team.

After that, the Giants swept the Indians, with many attributing the victory to Mays’ performance. Even though it was his lone postseason highlight, the effect was so strong that 63 years later, in 2017, baseball named him the World Series Most Valuable Player. He played in three more World Series, with the Giants in 1951 and 1962 and the Mets in 1973. During the four series, he batted only.239 and did not hit a home run. When the Giants lost to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League playoffs in 1971, he hit his only postseason home run.

However, “The Catch” and his regular season accomplishments were more than sufficient. Mantle and Snider did not dispute Mays’ prominence, despite the fervent opposition from Dodgers and Yankees supporters. When all three were seated on the dais at a 1995 baseball writers’ dinner in Manhattan, Mantle posed the age-old query: Which of the three was superior?

“Duke, we don’t mind coming in second?” He continued.

Mays hit 40 or more home runs six times, more than 50 home runs twice, drove in 100 or more runs ten times, scored 100 or more runs twelve times, and led the league in stolen bases four times between 1954 and 1966. Perhaps his numbers were higher. Due to military service, he was absent for the majority of 1952 and 1953. This may have prevented him from surpassing Ruth’s career home run record of 714, which was previously held by Henry Aaron and Mays’ godson, Barry Bonds. If the Gold Glove had been created earlier than 1956, he probably would have received more of them. If he had tried, he said, he would have frequently led the league in thefts.

“I am incredibly saddened and overwhelmed with feelings.” Bonds posted on Instagram, saying, “I have no words to express what you mean to me.

Although Mays was lucky to avoid a significant controversy and serious injuries, he had both personal and professional difficulties. He divorced Marguerite Wendell from his first marriage. In the days before free agents, he was sometimes strapped for cash and got paid less for endorsements than players like Mantle and other white stars. Racist taunts were directed at him, and because he insisted on being an entertainer rather than a spokesperson, Jackie Robinson and others criticized him for not doing more to further the civil rights movement. Some of his managers didn’t sit well with him, and he wasn’t always fond of his idol, Aaron, who was by far his greatest contemporary.

As Henry started to climb the home run chart, Aaron biographer Howard Bryant wrote in 2010 that Willie was reluctant to acknowledge even a little bit of Henry’s talent. Instead, he chose to blame his performance on Candlestick Park, his home field in San Francisco, claiming it was a bad place to hit home runs and that was the cause of Henry’s surge.

Supporters of Aaron, who passed away in 2021, would argue that the only things that prevented him from being rated on par with or even higher than Mays were his reserved personality and his location from big media hubs (Aaron played in both Atlanta and Milwaukee). However, Mays was regarded as the best in the baseball world by many. Because he was Willie Mays, he frequently batted first in All-Star Games and was the highest-paid player in the game for 11 seasons, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. He positioned other fielders and called pitches from center field. He boasted that while determining whether to try for an extra base, he followed his instincts rather than those of any instructor.

It is frequently acknowledged that sports writer Barney Kremenko gave him the nickname “The Say Hey Kid,” alluding to Mays’ upbeat greetings of his teammates and special occasions both on and off the field that cemented the public’s love for him. After teammate Juan Marichal hit Los Angeles Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with a bat in 1965, Mays broke up a horrific altercation. Mays led a bloodied Roseboro out of town and sat with him on the Giants’ bitter rivals, the Dodgers, clubhouse bench.

He won over youthful admirers years ago when he was a Manhattan resident by participating in neighborhood stickball games.

When he was in the vicinity of the former Polo Grounds in 2011, he remarked, “I used to have maybe 10 kids come to my window.” They would arrive every morning at nine o’clock. They would tap on my window to wake me up. Moreover, I had to leave at 9:30. In order to allow me to take a shower. They would allow me to have breakfast. However, they wanted to play at 9:30, so I had to be outside then. So I spent maybe an hour playing with them.

His father, a Negro League player, wanted Willie to do the same, playing catch with him and letting him sit in the dugout. He was born in Westfield, Alabama, in 1931. Mays’s childhood buddies swore that basketball, not baseball, was his finest sport because of how gifted he was as an athlete.

He was playing for the Birmingham Black Barons by high school, and when Major League Baseball accepted Negro League statistics in 2024, he would later in life add 10 hits to his career total of 3,293. Mays’ rise was bound to happen when Robinson broke through the color barrier in major league baseball in 1947. Having to forego his senior prom, he joined with the Giants following his high school graduation and was sent to their minor league affiliate located in Trenton, New Jersey. He signed with Triple-A Minneapolis to start the 1951 season. He was batting an astonishing.477 after 35 games, earning the moniker “the best prospect in America” from one scout. Mays was only 20 years old when he was asked to start for the Giants, but manager Leo Durocher saw no reason to hold out.

From 1951 until 1955, Durocher was Mays’ manager and took on the role of a father figure, providing the irritable but wise guidance that occasionally overindulged the young star. Mays never denied Durocher’s version of events, which described how he struggled in his first few games and was prepared to return to the lower leagues.

“I’m hitting.477 in the minors, killing everybody.” When I got to the majors, I was unable to hit. “I was playing the outfield really well, hitting everyone out, but I just couldn’t get a hit,” Mays stated in a 1996 speech to the Washington-based leadership center Academy of Achievement. Leo approached me when I started crying and said, ‘You’re my center fielder; it doesn’t matter what you do. You simply head home, return the next day, and play. That, I believe, completely changed my direction.

Mays ended up hitting in 1951.272 with 20 home runs, which was sufficient to win the league’s top rookie award. That first season, he might have been a legend. On August 11, the Giants fell behind Brooklyn by 13 games, but they came back to tie the Dodgers and win a best-of-three postseason series thanks to one of baseball’s most iconic home runs, which came off the bat of Bobby Thomson in the bottom of the ninth against Ralph Branca.

Mays was the batter on deck.

In 2010, Mays said to The New York Times, “I was concentrating on Branca, what he was throwing, what he might throw me.” “I didn’t even move when he hit the home run.

“I remember asking myself, ‘What’s going on here?’ as all the players were racing past me on their way to home plate. I thought to myself, “I have to hit!”

His career did not progress during the next two years of his military duty. Mays was given the task of coaching the baseball team in his unit as a batting instructor. One of his students suggested that he start catching fly balls by extending his glove, facing up, around his belly, like a basket. Mays took to the new strategy partly because it made throwing easier for him.

1954 saw him make a full-time comeback, hitting a league-high.345 with 41 home runs. In 1965, at the age of 34, he blasted his 500th career home run. However, in the following eight years, he only hit 160. When Mays was having trouble early in the 1972 season and the Giants were trying to save money, the team surprised both Mays and others by dealing its star player to the New York Mets, sending him back to the city where he had made his major league debut.

Mays’s first at-bat for his new team could not have been more planned: he helped the Mets defeat the visiting Giants 5-4 by hitting the game-winning home run in the fifth inning. Over the next two seasons, however, he declined precipitously, at times even tripping and falling in the field. He was often used as an example of a celebrity who remained too long.

He coached Bonds in retirement and stood up for him when he was accused of using drugs. When Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended Mays from the game in 1979 for conducting promotional work at the Bally’s Park Place Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Mays found himself in hot water. (Mays and colleague casino promoter Mantle were rehabilitated in 1985 by Kuhn’s successor, Peter Ueberroth).

However, tributes were more prevalent and came from all walks of life, including the White House, sports, and entertainment. Woody Allen’s character in the 1979 film “Manhattan” lists Mays as one of his reasons for existing. When Obama realized he was a distant cousin of political foe and former Vice President Dick Cheney, he complained that he wasn’t related to someone “cool,” like Mays.

Obama stated on X on Tuesday that “Willie Mays wasn’t just a singular athlete, blessed with an unmatched combination of grace, skill, and power.” In addition, he was incredibly kind and giving, serving as an example for a whole generation.

When asked about his greatest moments in baseball, Mays unavoidably brought up “The Catch,” but he also treasured hitting four home runs in a Braves game, tumbling over a canvas fence to make a catch in the minor leagues, and running into a fence in Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field while pursuing a drive with a bases loaded, taking a pitch and keeping the ball in his possession.

He was content to be on the field most of the time, especially as the sun set.

He said to the accomplishment academy, “I mean, you had the lights out there and all you do is go out there, and you’re out there by yourself in center field.” “And I just thought the game was so lovely that I wanted to play it all the time,” the player said.

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