Say Hey Kid: Willie Mays’ Enduring Legacy as a Baseball Icon and American Treasure

On Tuesday evening, the baseball community expressed their sadness about the death of Willie Mays, who was one of the game’s most iconic figures, passing away peacefully at the age of 93. The San Francisco Giants, whose illustrious career with Mays ended, announced his passing with great sadness and reverence.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” Michael Mays said in a heartfelt statement released by the Giants. “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.”

A Legacy That Transcends Generations

Willie Mays, affectionately known as the ‘Say Hey Kid,’ leaves behind a legacy that transcends generations. His unrivaled combination of talent, intellect, and unwavering love for the game made him not just a baseball player, but a cultural icon whose influence extended beyond the diamond. 

“It’s been a really, I guess, good run for me, because when you can come into a town and people love you the same way where you came from, to me, that’s wonderful,” Mays once said. “I think it’s just a magnificent type of way of getting along with people.”

The influence of Mays lasted for decades, inspiring countless players and fans with his remarkable skills, joyous demeanor, and unwavering dedication to excellence. His legacy is a testament to his extraordinary statistics and accomplishments on the field, but also his values: integrity, resilience, and a profound passion for the sport. 

Willie Mays will always be remembered as a true giant of baseball, whose influence continues to reverberate with people of all ages, making his legacy last for generations to come.

Former President shared via X [Twitter], that Mays wasn’t just an athlete, but also a caring person. 

Willie Mays wasn’t just a singular athlete, blessed with an unmatched combination of grace, skill and power. He was also a wonderfully warm and generous person – and an inspiration to an entire generation. I’m lucky to have spent time with him over the years, and Michelle and I send our deepest condolences to his family.”

A Career of Accolades

In a career spanning more than two decades from 1951 to 1973, Mays accumulated a staggering array of accolades. He made 24 All-Star appearances, won two NL MVP awards, and received 12 Gold Gloves for his exceptional defensive prowess. His statistics speak volumes: sixth all-time in home runs (660), seventh in runs scored (2,068), 12th in RBIs (1,909), and 13th in hits (3,293). He also became a first ballot Hall of Famer in 1979.

Willie Mays Accomplishments Off The Baseball Field 

Mays also served some time in the US Army from 1952 to 1953.  On May 29, 1952, Willie Mays was sworn in as a private at the U.S. Army induction center at 39 Whitehall Street in New York City. Capt. William F. Donegan, Jr. Administered the oath to the 21-year-old Mays, marking a pivotal moment in his career as he temporarily left baseball to serve his country. Despite his military commitment, Mays remained optimistic about his team, the New York Giants, predicting their success in the upcoming season due to their strong pitching lineup. Hailing from Fairfield, Alabama, Mays expressed his hope to continue playing baseball while serving in the Army, emphasizing his dedication to both his country and the sport. Known for his spectacular outfield skills and athleticism, Mays’ induction highlighted his dual role as a celebrated athlete and a patriot answering the call of duty.

Willie Mays was not only ahead of his time on the baseball field but also demonstrated entrepreneurial spirit off the field. In 1954, after winning the World Series with the New York Giants alongside Monte Irvin, Mays ventured into business by using their $11,000 World Series shares to open “Willmont Liquors” in Brooklyn. This bold move showcased Mays’ foresight and ambition beyond baseball, illustrating his desire to secure financial stability and explore opportunities outside of sports. With the assistance of their lawyer, Howard Cosell, who later became a renowned sports broadcaster, Mays and Irvin navigated the complexities of obtaining a liquor license, highlighting their determination to succeed in business ventures as well as on the diamond.

In 2015, President Obama awarded Mays with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“Today we celebrate some extraordinary people: innovators, artists and leaders who contribute to America’s strength as a nation,” Obama said.

He added, “It’s because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for president.”

Tributes from the Baseball Community

“Today we have lost a true legend,” remarked Giants Chairman Greg Johnson. “Willie Mays’ combination of tremendous talent, keen intellect, showmanship, and boundless joy set him apart as the ultimate Forever Giant. He had a profound influence not only on the game of baseball but on the fabric of America itself. He was an inspiration and a hero who will be forever remembered and deeply missed.”

According to Larry Baer, the president and CEO of the Giants, “I fell in low with baseball because of Willie, plain and simple. 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.”

Barry Bonds, Mays’ godson and baseball icon in his own right, paid homage to Mays’ influence on his life and career, highlighting his profound impact on generations of players.

“I am beyond devastated and overcome with emotion. 💔 I have no words to describe what you mean to me- you helped shape me to be who I am today. Thank you for being my Godfather and always being there. Give my dad a hug for me.

Rest in peace Willie, I love you forever. #SayHey ⚾️”

Mays Leaves A Lasting Impact on the Game

Mays’ influence lasted well beyond his playing days. Despite being one of the most memorable moments in baseball history, his iconic catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians remains one of the most iconic moments in baseball history.  With the score tied in the 8th inning and two runners on base, Mays sprinted towards the center field wall, made an extraordinary over-the-shoulder catch, and quickly threw the ball back to the infield, preventing the runners from scoring. The Giants won the game by a score of 5-2 in 10 innings.

Mays stated in a 2010 NPR interview that there was no magic involved. When Wertz hits the ball, practical thinking happens.

“You make sure that everything is happening within sequence,” Mays said. “That means I gotta catch the ball, I gotta stop, I gotta make a 360 [turn]. By the time I make the 360, the ball should be back into the infield. The key to me was the throw. Getting it back into the infield so nobody could advance.”

Rob Manfred, the Commissioner of MLB, expressed his admiration for Mays’ unparalleled legacy, describing him as a towering figure both on and off the field.“Willie Mays’ greatness transcended statistics,” said Manfred. “He embodied the spirit of the game and inspired countless aspiring athletes with his relentless pursuit of excellence.”

Mets co-owners Steve and Alex Cohen said in a statement, “Willie Mays was one of the greatest to ever play the game.  Willie ended his Hall of Fame career in Queens and was a key piece to the 1973 NL championship team.”

“Mays played with a style and grace like no one else. Alex and I were thrilled to honor a previous promise from Joan Payson to retire his iconic #24 as a member of the Mets in 2022. 

“On behalf of our entire organization, we send our thoughts and prayers to Willie’s family and friends.”

A Life Well-Lived

Born in Alabama on May 6, 1931, Mays started his professional career at the Birmingham Black Barons when he was 17, where he demonstrated his exceptional talent. During his journey to the majors, he overcame challenges, including a military stint in the Korean War, which interrupted his career but didn’t diminish his impact.

Mays’ contributions to baseball were recognized throughout his lifetime. The Giants’ home ballpark is a testimony to his legacy, and ’24 Willie Mays Plaza’ is a constant tribute to his long-lasting influence on the franchise and the city of San Francisco. In San Francisco, Willie Mays Day is celebrated every May 24th, which is a testament to his lasting impact.

Willie Mays will always have a legacy that will live on. As the baseball community reflects on Mays’ life and career, fans and players alike cherish the memories of a man who embodied integrity, commitment to excellence, and an unparalleled love for the game. Willie Mays’ legacy will forever be etched in the annals of baseball history, a reminder of the power of passion and perseverance.

Rest in peace, Willie Mays. Your spirit will live on in the hearts of baseball enthusiasts around the world.


Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *