Willie Mays, San Francisco Giants Baseball Legend and Hall of Famer, Dies at 93

Willie Mays, the baseball legend who played center fielder for the San Francisco Giants, died Tuesday of heart failure, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. He was 93.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” Mays son Michael told the outlet. “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.”

Giants chairman Greg Johnson also commented on the baseball great. “Today we have lost a true legend. 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.”

The Giants also tweeted, “It is with great sadness that we announce that San Francisco Giants Legend and Hall of Famer Willie Mays passed away peacefully this afternoon at the age of 93.”

“I fell in love with baseball because of Willie, plain and simple. My childhood was defined by going to Candlestick with my Dad, watching Willie patrol center field with grace and the ultimate athleticism,” said Giants CEO Larry Baer. “Over the past 30 years, working with Willie, and seeing firsthand his zest for life and unbridled passion for giving to young players and kids, has been one of the joys of my life.”

Mays died two days before Major League Baseball’s tribute to the Negro Leagues on Thursday. The event will be held at Birmingham’s Rickwood Field in Alabama, where Mays first played for the Birmingham Black Barons.

The baseball legend spent 15 of his 23 years playing in San Francisco with the Giants, and another 6 playing in New York. He hit 660 home runs, made 24 All-Star appearances and won 12 Gold Gloves.

Mays, known for his showmanship on the field, famously wore his cap a size small so that it would fall off his head when he ran the bases. He was celebrated for his prowess at the sport, and dominated at hitting, power hitting, defending, base running and throwing as a true all-around great.

His baseball career began in 1948 when he briefly played for the semi-pro Chattanooga Choo-Choos before he was signed by the Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro American League as a high school student. To play Mays had to get permission from his father, who also briefly played for the Black Barons and was a well known center fielder in the city.

Mays attracted the attention of several Major League teams and was signed by the New York Giants in 1950. As the only non-white player in the New Jersey-based team’s Interstate League, Mays was confronted with intense racism that was quelled by his superior and impressive skill. He was named the National League’s Rookie of the Year in 1951 with .274 with 20 home runs and 68 RBI in 121 games.

Mays was drafted into the US Army following the end of his first season. He played just over 30 games with the Giants before he reported to Fort Eustis in Virginia. Mays returned to baseball the day after he was discharged from service in 1954.

The year proved to be a successful one for Mays, who was named the league MVP and helped the Giants win the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. In the 8th inning of the first game, Mays made one of the most famous catches of his career after Vic Wertz hit the ball 400 feet into the outfield and the center fielder caught it over his shoulder and then heaved the ball to second base, which stopped two players from scoring. The Giants went on to win the game in the 10th inning.

In 2003, Mays said of the catch, “I was very cocky. When I say that, I mean that everything that went in the air, I thought I could catch. I was very aware of what was going on. When the ball was hit off Don Liddle, the pitcher, I’m saying to myself, ‘Two men are on.’ I’m talking to myself as I’m running.”

“As the ball is coming in, I’m saying to myself, ‘I have to get the ball into the infield.’ In my mind, I never thought I would miss the ball. When you watch the play, look at the way I catch the ball. It’s like a wide receiver catching a pass going down the sideline, which is over the left shoulder, on the right side. I had learned about that while playing football in high school.”

The Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, and Mays struggled to hit it off with the city’s fans as the man who took over the position once played by Joe DiMaggio in the city. He and his wife Marghuerite faced discrimination when they tried to buy a home in St. Francis Wood and were turned down because they were Black; after two years, the pair bought the house.

Mays soon became a fan favorite and was considered the best Giants player of all time—and by many, the greatest baseball player in the history of the sport. After the Golden Glove award was introduced in 1957, he won the first 12 in a row (a feat only repeated by Roberto Clemente).

He was traded to the New York Mets in 1972 due to financial problems with the Giants, and he played his final season with the team before he retired in 1973. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979 with 94.7% of the votes cast, one of the highest ever at the time.

In 2015 Mays was honored by President Barack Obama at the White House with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In the 2020 book “24: Life Stories and Lessons from The Say Hey Kid,” Obama admitted that, “It’s because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for President.”

Willie Mays was born on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama. As a child he also played basketball and football, but was taught baseball by his father and proved to excel at the sport.

He married Marghuerite Wendell Chapman in 1956 and the pair welcomed their son Michael in 1959. After they divorced in 1963 Mays married Mae Louise Allen in 1971.

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