One of the Greatest Baseball Players Ever Dies at 93 – IOTW Report

One of the Greatest Baseball Players Ever Dies at 93


The Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays, has passed.

Willie Mays, the iconic Hall of Fame center fielder who is known as the greatest all-around baseball player of all time, died Tuesday, the San Francisco Giants announced. He was 93 years old.

Mays, nicknamed “The Say Hey Kid,” had a professional baseball career that spanned four decades, beginning with the Negro Leagues in the late 1940s and ending with the New York Mets in 1972. In between, he spent 21 years with the New York Giants, who would later move to San Francisco.

Mays was born on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama, and named Willie, not William. Both his parents were talented athletes, but his father was the one who introduced Mays to baseball. Cat Mays was a semi-pro player on several local Black teams and had his son sitting in the dugout with him at 10 after teaching him the fundamentals years before.

By the time he was in high school, Mays starred in several sports. His professional baseball career began in 1948, when he played for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League before he had finished high school. He signed with the Giants after he graduated high school in 1950 and earned his call-up to the majors in May 1951 after barely a year of playing in the minors.

Mays’ career

Mays was a true five-tool player, excelling at speed, throwing, fielding, hitting for average and hitting for power. He had a career triple-slash line of .301/.384/.557, with 660 home runs, 525 doubles and 338 stolen bases. He was the NL stolen-base leader four times and led the NL in homers four times. Over 24 seasons in the majors, he grounded into just 45 double-plays.

In May, 10 hits were added to Mays’ career total when Negro League stats were officially integrated into MLB’s historical record. His home run total was not adjusted due to the lack of box scores from those games.

In the grand scheme of his career, it didn’t take long for Mays to become the amazing all-around player we remember today, but it wasn’t instantaneous. He debuted on May 25, 1951, and didn’t put up overwhelming numbers — his first hit, a home run, came against the Boston Braves in his fourth game in the majors — but won Rookie of the Year, the first of many accolades.

He also earned his nickname, “The Say Hey Kid,” in his rookie year. It was given to him by either his manager, Leo Durocher, or writer Barney Kremenko of the New York Journal American, who said he gave Mays that name because the shy, first-year player “would blurt ‘Say who,’ ‘Say what,’ ‘Say where,’ ‘Say hey.’ In my paper, I tabbed him the ‘Say Hey Kid.’ It stuck.”

Mays spoke and sang backup on “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)” in 1954, recorded by the Treniers, with music legend Quincy Jones conducting the orchestra.

Mays didn’t get the chance to follow up on his promising MLB debut until 1954, after he served two years in the Army during the Korean War. He spent most of that time (the majority of 1952 and all of 1953) playing on military baseball teams with other MLB players and traveling around to entertain the troops.

When he returned home in 1954, the switch had been flipped. Mays had the greatest season of his career, hitting .345/.411/.667 with 41 home runs. He won MVP and was selected to the All-Star Game.

While that was his best overall season, he had many great ones after that. From 1955 to 1966, Mays finished in the top six of MVP voting in all but one year, winning MVP again in 1965 and coming in second two times. He was selected to the All-Star Game 20 times in his career (24 times if you count the second All-Star games from 1959 to 1962). He won All-Star MVP in 1963 and 1968, becoming the first player to win the award twice, and also won 12 Gold Gloves.

Despite his prolific hitting, Mays said he enjoyed fielding more than anything else.

“Don’t get me wrong: I like to hit,” he told the Sporting News in 1955. “But there’s nothing like getting out there in the outfield, running after a ball and throwing somebody out trying to take that extra base. That’s real fun.”

As a player, he set many on-field records, but one off-the-field record set an important precedent for future players. On Feb. 20, 1963, he signed a contract with the Giants worth $100,000 per year, the first six-figure contract in baseball history.

The greatest catch ever made

Despite his on-field success, Mays won just one World Series in his 24-year career, with the 1954 New York Giants, who swept the Cleveland Indians (now known as the Guardians). That series gave us one of the most iconic and greatest plays in MLB history: Mays’ famous over-the-shoulder catch.

The play, still known simply as “The Catch,” came in Game 1 at the Giants’ stadium, the Polo Grounds. The score was 2-2 in the top of the eighth inning, and the bases were loaded with Cleveland players. Cleveland’s Vic Wertz came up to bat and smashed a ball into the stadium’s cavernous center field. Mays, running at full speed from shallow center toward the wall, managed to track down the ball and make a stunning, no-look catch. Then he turned on a dime and fired a throw to second base, which prevented any runners from scoring.

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Mays said he didn’t evaluate his outfield plays (“I don’t compare ’em. I just catch ’em,” he said via ESPN), but “The Catch” is still considered one of the greatest of all time.

And Mays never had any doubt that the ball would fall into his glove.

“I had it all the way,” he said.

Mays’ later life

Mays began a slow decline in the late 1960s, though he still posted a National League-best .425 OBP in 1971. The Giants traded him to the Mets in May 1972, after which he was finally playing in front of New York crowds once again.

While Mays wasn’t named an All-Star in 1972 for the first time in his career, he earned a final nod in 1973, his final season.

After retiring, he became the Mets hitting coach until 1979, when he terminated his baseball contract to become a greeter at an Atlantic City hotel and casino. Then-commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned Mays from baseball due to the gambling connection, but he was reinstated in 1985 by Peter Ueberroth, Kuhn’s successor.

The Giants, who retired Mays’ number in 1972, signed him to a lifetime contract in the 1990s, making him a permanent special assistant to the president. He spent years visiting the Giants’ minor-league teams, attending spring training and making appearances on behalf of the club.

Mays is survived by his son, Michael. Mays married his wife, Mae Louise Allen Mays, in the early 1970s. She died in 2013 following a long battle with Alzheimers.


13 Comments on One of the Greatest Baseball Players Ever Dies at 93

  1. A great player, and even more rare these days, he seemed to be a humble, genuinely good person from everything I’ve ever heard about him. A long life well lived is about as good as anyone can hope for out of this life.

  2. When I was growing up it was always the argument about who should break The Babe’s home run record for home runs Mays or Aaron?….I was a Mays fan…..

  3. We lived in the Bay Area from when I was born until tight after I turned five. If a game was on and someone asked me who was winning, I would say “Willie Mays, 2-0.”

    I saw a video that said if that catch Mays made in right field were made in a modern stadium, he would have been half way up the bleachers.

    Time marches on, but 93 is a good run. RIP Willie.


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