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Willie Mays Dies at 93

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Willie Mays, pictured during a San Francisco Giants game in 1970, died on Tuesday. He was 93. (Sporting News via Getty Images)

Willie Mays, the San Francisco Giants’ baseball legend known as the ‘Say Hey Kid,’ died on Tuesday, the team announced. He was 93.

Mays, regarded by many as the greatest all-around baseball player ever, may be remembered most for his magic playing center field, iconized most famously in the play known as ‘The Catch.’ Mays, playing in the 1954 World Series for the New York Giants, chased down a fly ball, and caught it over his shoulder with his back to the diamond.

“The use of the basket catch. The hat flying off his head,” biographer James Hirsch wrote of Mays, in the book Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend. “He did it with a certain flair and charisma that he knew was irresistible to watch.”

“He was the first ‘five-tool’ player,” Hirsch said. “That term did not exist until Willie Mays came around. He could hit for power. He could hit for average. He could run. He could throw and he could field. And in that sense, he became the template for all other players who wanted to be a complete ballplayer.”


Willie Howard Mays, Jr. was born in 1931 in Westfield, Alabama. He played for the Birmingham Black Barons in the old Negro Leagues before joining the New York Giants, in 1951, four years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s infamous color barrier.

When the Giants and Dodgers moved from New York to California in 1958, Mays was a face of Major League Baseball’s westward expansion. The fact that his face was Black made it a tough transition for Mays, but Mays later expressed how uncomfortable he was confronting racism forthrightly, which other players were unhappy with.

“It definitely hurt [Mays] for Jackie Robinson and others to be critical of him,” biographer Hirsch said. “But importantly, Willie believed that in his own way, he did advance the Civil Rights Movement as a role model for the rest of America.”

A photo of Willie Mays hangs in the Mays Suite at AT&T Park in San Francisco. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

“I remember hearing about the struggles that he endured because he was Black, and what he overcame to become an icon on the field,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said in a statement Tuesday. “He was from a generation who faced segregation and racism, a generation that paved the way so that many of us could have the freedom to thrive.

“To a native San Franciscan, some things just go without question: it’s foggy in the summer, cable cars go halfway to the stars, and Willie Mays is the best there ever was.”

Mays was known for playing hard and all the time. He rarely missed games. A few times, he collapsed from exhaustion. He is also remembered for making peace in the clubhouse, keeping the focus on the baseball and making everyone feel welcome.

“If you were a member of the baseball team, he’s gonna take care of you,” said former teammate Nate Oliver, who was traded to the Giants in 1968 after playing against the team the season before, for the Los Angeles Dodgers. “He treated every single person in the clubhouse with dignity and respect… because if you’re here, you belong here. And if we’re going to win, it takes all of us.”

Willie Mays hits his 511th home run at the Astrodome in Houston in April, 1966, tying Mel Ott’s record for most National League career home runs. Mays would break the tie nine days later against the Dodgers at Candlestick Park. He hit 660 home runs in his career. (Getty Images)

On his 90th birthday in 2021, the Giants Community Fund launched a scholarship program for Black students in his name.

“He’s always said that people took such good care of him, when he was young and coming up in baseball that, he wants to give it back,” said Renel Brooks-Moon, former San Francisco Giants’ public address announcer.

She said even in his later years, Mays delighted in coming to the Giants clubhouse to talk baseball.

“Nothing gives him more pleasure than teaching the game,” she said. “And nothing gives him more pleasure than helping children.”

Willie Mays, photographed in 2014 in San Francisco. (Jerry Holt/Star Tribune via Getty Images)

Mays played 21 seasons with the Giants. In his career, Mays hit 660 home runs and stole 338 bases. And he will be long remembered for that one catch.

“When the Ball went up, I knew exactly what to do before the ball ever came down,” Mays remembered of the play in a 2010 interview on NPR’s All Things Considered. “I gotta catch the ball. I gotta stop. I gotta make a 360. And I might have had the ball all the way but the key for me was the throw, getting it back into the infield so nobody could advance.”

This story has been updated.

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