MLB and SFGiants remember the legacy of Willie Mays

San Francisco – Willie Mays was scheduled to be honored at Rickwood Field for the June 20th matchup between the Giants and the Cardinals. But Mays passed away on June 18th at 93 in Palo Alto, CA. Mays debuted in the Negro American League for the Birmingham Black Barons, thrilling fans at Rickwood Field.

Seventy-six years later, Mays’ Hall of Fame plaque will journey from Cooperstown to Birmingham. Now, the game will be a special tribute to the Negro League and Mays as a player. Mays, currently the oldest living Hall of Famer at 93 years old, tallied his first MLB hits in 13 games with Birmingham in 1948. He would debut for the New York Giants three years later, embarking on a legendary career that saw him win 12 Gold Glove Awards in center field, earn 24 All-Star Game selections, and win two National League Most Valuable Player Awards. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979, and his bronze plaque has adorned the oak walls in Cooperstown ever since.

Rickwood Field

The San Francisco Giants Issued the Following Statement on Behalf of Willie Mays’ Family and the Organization:

“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.”  

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” Michael Mays said. “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.”

“Today we have lost a true legend”, said Giants Chairman Greg Johnson. “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 on the game of baseball and the fabric of America. He was an inspiration and a hero who will be forever remembered and deeply missed.”

“I fell in love with baseball because of Willie, plain and simple,” 

Giants President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Baer said. “My childhood was defined by going to Candlestick with my dad, watching Willie patrol centerfield with grace and the ultimate athleticism. 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.”  

At the age of 16, Willie Mays joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League in 1948, playing only on Sundays during the school year. The New York Giants purchased his contract in 1950 when he graduated from Fairfield Industrial High School, and after two seasons in the minor leagues, he was in center field at the Polo Grounds in 1951 and was named the NL Rookie of the Year at the end of that season.

He spent most of 1952 and all of 1953 in the Army, but in 1954, Mays led the league with a .345 batting average and 13 triples while hitting 41 home runs and driving in 110 runs. The Giants again won the pennant and in the World Series, faced the Cleveland Indians – winners of an AL-record 111 games. 

With Game 1 tied 2-2 in the top of the eighth, runners on first and second, and no outs, Vic Wertz hit a towering drive that would have been a home run in most parks. Mays, playing shallow, took off and ran with his back to the ball, caught it over the shoulder an estimated 460 feet from the plate, turned, and fired. Larry Doby, who had to turn back and tag up at second base, was forced to stop at third. The Giants went on to win the game and sweep the Series. “The Catch” is considered by many to be one of the greatest defensive plays in history.

Mays went on to play 21 seasons with the Giants and finished up with the Mets in 1972 and 1973. Mays was named Most Valuable Player twice, first as a New York Giant (1954) and then as a San Francisco Giant (1965). He holds the all-time record for putouts by an outfielder, with a career total of 7,095. He won 12 Gold Gloves in center field and appeared in 24 All-Star games. He led the league in home runs four times, stolen bases four times, slugging percentage five times, total bases three times, and triples three times. He was third on the all-time home run list with 660 until 2003 when Barry Bonds, passed him.

Content provided by MLB and SFGiants

Photo by SFGiants/Twitter

Malaika Bobino

Malaika Bobino, an Oakland, California native, is a Bay Area sports journalism powerhouse and influencer. With nearly two decades of experience at both the Oakland Post and the Huffington Post, she is always on the front lines of the iconic Bay Area sports scene. Bobino covered the Oakland A’s postseason trips, all three of the San Francisco Giants World Series, was present for all three Golden State Warriors three NBA Championships and covered the 49ers last two Super Bowl appearances

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