Willie Mays - Our Forever Giant

Willie Mays - Our Forever Giant

We lost an iconic legend yesterday.  Willie Mays, born Willie Howard Mays Jr. on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama.  He is often referred to by his nicknames, "The Say Hey Kid" and "Buck".  Mays began his professional career with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League.  He was signed by the New York Giants in 1950 making his Major League Baseball debut on May 25, 1951.  That same year, he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award.  In 1952 to 1953, Mays missed two MLB seasons to serve the United States Army during the Korean War.  

Known for his all-around abilities, Mays excelled in hitting, fielding, and base running, making him one of the most complete players in baseball history.  Mays' ability to maintain a high level of play throughout his long career is remarkable. He played at an elite level well into his late 30s and early 40s, a testament to his skill, conditioning, and love for the game.  Mays' influence extends beyond statistics; he broke racial barriers and inspired countless young athletes.  His godson, Barry Bonds, is also one of baseball's greatest players, holding the all-time home run record.  Mays has remained active in the baseball community, serving in various ambassadorial and advisory roles for the Giants and MLB. His life and career have been the subject of numerous books, documentaries, and academic studies, underscoring his impact on sports and American culture.

Here is a list of his most notable facts:

  • The Catch: His over-the-shoulder catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series is one of the most famous defensive plays in baseball history.

  • 1954 World Series Champion: Mays and the Giants won the World Series in 1954.

  • 600 Home Runs: Mays was the second player in MLB history to hit 600 home runs, finishing his career with 660.

  • 3,000 Hits: He collected 3,283 hits in his career, making him a member of the exclusive 3,000-hit club.

  • MVP Awards: Mays won the National League Most Valuable Player (MVP) Award twice, in 1954 and 1965.

  • Gold Gloves: He won 12 Gold Glove Awards from 1957 to 1968, demonstrating his exceptional defensive skills.

  • All-Star Appearances: Mays was selected to the All-Star Game 24 times, a record he shares with Hank Aaron and Stan Musial.

  • Hall of Fame Induction: He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility.

  • Uniform Number: The Giants retired his uniform number 24 in 1972.

  • Presidential Medal of Freedom: In 2015, Mays was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the United States' highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama.

Willie Mays is iconic for several reasons, stemming from his extraordinary talent, significant achievements, and lasting impact on the game of baseball and sports culture in general.  Many players and fans view Willie Mays as the epitome of what a baseball player should be. His influence is seen in the way the game is played and the reverence with which current players and fans regard him.  Beyond his on-field achievements, Mays' charisma and sportsmanship made him a beloved figure. He played during a time of significant social change in the United States and became a role model for African American athletes, breaking racial barriers and inspiring future generations. Willie Mays is iconic not just because of his statistical achievements, but also due to his spectacular plays, his role in the cultural and social evolution of baseball, and his lasting impact on the sport and its fans.

Rest in love, peace and baseball.

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