Willie Mays Rickwood Field tributes: MLB honors the late baseball icon just days after his death

MLB paid tribute to Willie Mays and the Negro Leagues on Thursday at Rickwood Field, where the Cardinals topped the Giants

Just days before Major League Baseball was set to honor the legacy of the Negro Leagues with a game at the legendary Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, Willie Mays died at the age of 93. Mays, who was born in Westfield, Alabama, just minutes away from Rickwood Field, played his first professional home games there in 1948 as a member of the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League.

Mays' San Francisco Giants took on the St. Louis Cardinals on Thursday in the first MLB regular-season game at Rickwood Field. The Cardinals emerged victorious by a score of 6-5.

MLB went all-out to treat the game and its location with the gravitas they deserved. The Giants and Cardinals players took the field alongside former Negro League players, then Bill Greason — the oldest living Negro Leagues player, at 99 years old — threw out the first pitch.

There were other touches, too, such as the first all-Black umpiring crew in AL/NL history, the Fox Sports broadcast airing an inning in a black-and-white, 4:3 aspect ratio retro style and Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson reminding everyone the kind of racism Black players encountered a half-century ago.

Mays was not set to be in attendance Thursday, with his final public statement saying he'd remain at home in California during the game. With the passing of the "Say Hey Kid," tributes poured in from across MLB this week, as well as from the rest of the sports world and beyond.

More tributes rolled in Thursday as the Giants and Cardinals took the field in Birmingham. Yahoo Sports followed along throughout the game and the night with reactions and tributes to the baseball icon.

  • Ryan Helsley gives up a walk and a single in the 9th, but gets his 25th save of the season to close out a 6–5 Cardinals win.

  • Adam Kloffenstein was called up from Triple-A Memphis earlier on Thursday. Making his major league debut for the Cardinals at Rickwood Field

  • Ryan Walker pitches a scoreless 7th to hold that 6–5 lead for St. Louis

  • A Nick Ahmed sacrifice fly makes it a 6–5 game

  • Wilmer Flores RBI single cuts Cardinals' lead to 6–4

  • Brendan Donovan with his third hit of the game for the Cardinals

  • Rookie Randy Rodriguez didn't play with Brandon Crawford on the Giants. No regard for him!

  • Austin Slater taking over in right field for Mike Yastrzemski.

  • Andre Pallante throws the first pitch to Masyn Winn at Rickwood Field and we're off.

  • Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey Jr. and Willie Mays' son Michael Mays are out for the Mays tribute, with the crowd chanting "Willie."

  • After a few songs from Jon Batiste, the Giants and Cardinals are walking in alongside a group of former Negro League players.

  • Willie Mays is an icon whose legacy is ingrained in the fiber of baseball

    There have been players who were the best players of their era, and there have been players who were great representatives of the game of baseball.

    Willie Mays did both, and he did them at the highest level.

    Mays, who died Tuesday at the age of 93, embodied everything that you want, not only in a superstar but also in a person. And the swagger, flair and grace he showed over four decades in baseball endeared him to the people of New York, San Francisco and the rest of the nation.

    Mays was the best baseball player the world has ever seen. Maybe the best it will ever see. When you run down the list of accomplishments and accolades for The Say Hey Kid, it’s difficult to fathom that a player was able to do all the things he accomplished, even in a 23-year career:

    • 1951 NL Rookie of The Year

    • 1954 World Series champion

    • 3,293 hits

    • 660 home runs

    • 12 Gold Glove Awards

    • 2 NL MVP Awards

    • 24 All-Star Game selections

    Read the full story here.