Willie Mays

Willie Mays
Willie Mays cropped.jpg
Mays in 1961
Center fielder
Born: (1931-05-06) May 6, 1931 (age 89)
Westfield, Alabama
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
May 25, 1951, for the New York Giants
Last MLB appearance
September 9, 1973, for the New York Mets
MLB statistics
Batting average.302
Home runs660
Runs batted in1,903
Stolen bases338
Negro leagues

Major League Baseball

Career highlights and awards
Member of the National
Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Baseball Hall of Fame Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg Empty Star.svg
Vote94.7% (first ballot)

Willie Howard Mays Jr. (born May 6, 1931), nicknamed "The Say Hey Kid", is an American former professional baseball center fielder, who spent almost all of his 22-season Major League Baseball (MLB) career playing for the New York/San Francisco Giants, before finishing with the New York Mets. He is regarded as one of the greatest baseball players of all time and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.

Mays won two National League (NL) Most Valuable Player (MVP) awards, ended his career with 660 home runs—third at the time of his retirement and currently fifth all-time—and won a record-tying 12 Gold Glove awards beginning in 1957, when the award was introduced.[1]

Mays shares the record of most All-Star Games played with 24, with Hank Aaron and Stan Musial.[2][3] In appreciation of his All-Star record, Ted Williams said "They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays."[4][5]

Mays' career statistics and his longevity in the pre-performance-enhancing drugs era have drawn speculation that he may be the finest five-tool player ever, and many surveys and expert analyses, which have examined Mays' relative performance, have led to a growing opinion that Mays was possibly the greatest all-around offensive baseball player of all time.[6] In 1999, Mays placed second on The Sporting News's "List of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players", making him the highest-ranking living player. Later that year, he was also elected to the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Mays is one of five National League players to have had eight consecutive 100-RBI seasons, along with Mel Ott, Sammy Sosa, Chipper Jones, and Albert Pujols. Mays hit over 50 home runs in 1955 and 1965, representing the longest time span between 50-plus home run seasons for any player in Major League Baseball history. His final Major League Baseball appearance came on October 16 during Game 3 of the 1973 World Series.

Early life[]

Mays was born in 1931 in Westfield, Alabama, a former primarily black company town near Fairfield.[7][8] His father, Cat Mays, was a talented baseball player with the Negro team for the local iron plant.[9] His mother, Annie Satterwhite, was a gifted basketball and track star in high school.[10] His parents never married[10] and separated when Mays was three.[11] Mays was raised by his father growing up.[12] His father worked as a railway porter when Mays was born, but he later got a job at the steel mills in Westfield so he could be closer to home. When two girls in Mays's neighborhood were orphaned, his father took them in. Sarah and Ernestine helped raise young Willie, who always saw these two as his aunts.[13][14][15] His father exposed him to baseball at an early age, playing catch with his son by the time Willie was five.[16] At age 10, Mays was allowed to sit on the bench of his father's games in the Birmingham Industrial League, which Mays remembered as attracting six thousand fans per game at times.[17][18]

Mays played multiple sports at Fairfield Industrial High School, averaging a then-record 17 points a game in basketball and more than 40 yards a punt in football, while also playing quarterback.[19] Since he started playing professional baseball while still in high school, he quit playing high school sports when he was 16.[20] Mays graduated from Fairfield in 1950.[21]

Professional baseball[]

Negro leagues[]

Mays' professional baseball career began in 1947, while he was still in high school; he played briefly with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos in Tennessee during the summer.[22] Later that year, Mays joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. He had first caught the eye of Barons' manager Piper Davis in tenth grade, when Davis had Mays try out for the team. Davis encouraged Mays to work on hitting the curveball, coached him periodically for a couple years, and gave Mays a chance to play for the Barons starting in 1947, when Mays was just 16.[23] When E. T. Oliver, principal at Mays's high school, threatened to suspend Mays for playing professional ball, Davis and Mays's father convinced him that Mays would still be able to concentrate on his studies.[24] Mays helped Birmingham win the pennant and advance to the 1948 Negro League World Series, which they lost 4-1 to the Homestead Grays. Mays hit a respectable .262 for the season, but it was also his excellent fielding and baserunning that made him a standout.[25]

Over the next several years, a number of major league baseball franchises sent scouts to watch him play. The first was the Boston Braves. The scout who discovered him, Bud Maughn, had been following him for over a year and referred him to the Braves, who then packaged a deal that called for $7,500 down and $7,500 in 30 days. They also planned to give Mays $6,000. The obstacle in the deal was that Tom Hayes, owner of the Birmingham Black Barons, wanted to keep Mays for the balance of the season. Had the team been able to act more quickly, the Braves franchise might have had both Mays and Hank Aaron in their outfield from 1954 to 1973. The Brooklyn Dodgers also scouted him and wanted Ray Blades to negotiate a deal, but they were too late. The New York Giants had already signed Mays for $4,000 and assigned him to their Class-B affiliate in Trenton, New Jersey.[26]

Minor leagues[]

According to Mays, Eddie Montague had been sent to Birmingham to scout Alonzo Perry as a potential first baseman for the Sioux City Soos of the Class-A Western League, but Montague became interested in Mays instead after watching a doubleheader.[27] Due to a scandal in Sioux City concerning a Native American's burial in a whites-only cemetery at the time, Sioux City decided not to take Mays, and he was assigned to the Trenton Giants of the Interstate League instead.[28]

After Mays batted .353 in Trenton, he began the 1951 season with the class AAA Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. During his short time span in Minneapolis, Mays played with two other future Hall of Famers: Hoyt Wilhelm and Ray Dandridge. Batting .477 in 35 games and playing excellent defense, Mays was called up to the Giants on May 24, 1951. Mays was at a movie theater in Sioux City, Iowa, when he found out he was being called up. A message flashed up on the screen that said: "WILLIE MAYS CALL YOUR HOTEL."[29][a] He appeared in his first major league game the next day in Philadelphia. Mays moved to Harlem, New York, where his mentor was a New York State Boxing Commission official and former Harlem Rens basketball legend "Strangler" Frank Forbes.

Major leagues[]

New York Giants (1951–1957)[]

Mays began his major league career on a sour note, with no hits in his first 12 at bats. On his 13th at-bat, however, he hit a towering home-run up and over the left field roof of the Polo Grounds off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn.[31] Spahn later joked, "I'll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if I'd only struck him out." Mays' batting average improved steadily throughout the rest of the season. Although his .274 average, 68 RBI and 20 homers (in 121 games) were among the lowest of his career, he still won the 1951 Rookie of the Year Award. During the Giants' comeback in August and September 1951 to tie the Dodgers in the pennant race, Mays' fielding and strong throwing arm were instrumental to several important Giants victories.[32] Mays was in the on-deck circle when Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard 'Round the World against Ralph Branca and the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the three-game playoff 2-1 after the teams were tied at the end of the regular season.

The Catch: Mays hauls in Vic Wertz's drive near the wall in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.

The Giants went on to meet the New York Yankees in the 1951 World Series. In Game 1, Mays, Hank Thompson and Hall of Famer Monte Irvin comprised the first all-African-American outfield in major league history four years after the color line was broken.[33] Mays hit poorly while the Giants lost the series 4–2. The six-game set was the only time that Mays and retiring Yankee slugger Joe DiMaggio (Mays's boyhood hero) would compete against each other.[34][35]

1952 Bowman Gum Willie Mays

U.S. Army (1952–53)[]

The United States Army drafted Mays in 1952 during the Korean War (1950–53) and he subsequently missed most of that season and all of the 1953 season. Mays spent much of his time in the Army playing baseball at Fort Eustis, Virginia.[36] It was at Fort Eustis that Mays learned the basket catch from a fellow Fort Eustis outfielder, Al Fortunato. Mays missed about 266 games due to military service.[37]


In 1954, Mays returned to the Giants and hit for a league-leading .345 batting average while slugging 41 home runs en route to his only World Series championship. Mays won the National League Most Valuable Player Award and the Hickok Belt as top professional athlete of the year. He also became the first player in history to hit 30 home runs before the All-Star Game[38] and was selected as an All-Star for the first of 19 consecutive seasons (20 total).[39][40] Mays had 38 through July 28, but around that time, manager Leo Durocher asked him to stop swinging for home runs, explaining that the team wanted him to reach base more so run producers like Monte Irvin, Dusty Rhodes, or Hank Thompson could try to drive him home.[41][42] Mays only hit five home runs after July 8 but upped his batting average from .326 to .345 to win the batting title, becoming the first Giant to lead the league in average since Bill Terry hit .401 in 1930.[42][43] The Giants won the National League pennant and the 1954 World Series, sweeping the Cleveland Indians in four games. The 1954 series is perhaps best remembered for "The Catch", an over-the-shoulder running grab by Mays in deep center field of the Polo Grounds of a long drive off the bat of Vic Wertz during the eighth inning of Game 1. Considered the iconic image of Mays' playing career and one of baseball's most memorable fielding plays,[44] the catch prevented two Indian runners from scoring, preserving a tie game. Mays said he realized as he ran that he was going to have to make a running catch, which is why he did not turn to look at it until the ball was almost at the wall.[45] The Giants won the game in the 10th inning on a three-run home run by Dusty Rhodes, with Mays scoring the winning run. The 1954 World Series was the team's last championship while based in New York. The next time the franchise won was 56 years later when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series in 2010.

Mays in 1954.

Mays went on to perform at a high level each of the last three years the Giants were in New York. In the middle of May, 1955, Durocher asked him to try for more home runs.[46] Mays led the league with 51. In 1956, he hit 36 homers and stole 40 bases, being only the second player, and first National League player, to join the "30–30 club". In 1957, the first season the Gold Glove award was presented, he won the first of 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards. At the same time, Mays continued to finish in the National League's top-five in a variety of offensive categories. Mays, Roberto Clemente (also with 12), Al Kaline, Andruw Jones, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Ichiro Suzuki are the only outfielders to have ten or more career Gold Gloves. In 1957, Mays became the fourth player in major league history to join the 20–20–20 club (2B, 3B, HR), something no player had accomplished since 1941. Mays also stole 38 bases that year, making him the second player in baseball history (after Frank Schulte in 1911) to reach 20 in each of those four categories (doubles, triples, homers, steals) in the same season.

San Francisco Giants (1958–1972)[]

After the 1957 season, the Giants franchise relocated to San Francisco, California. Mays bought two homes in San Francisco, then lived in nearby Atherton.[47][48]:151 Manager Bill Rigney wanted him to challenge Babe Ruth's single-season home run record that year and did not play Mays much in spring training in hopes of using his best hitter every day in 1958.[49] As he had in 1954, Mays vied for the National League batting title in 1958 until the final game of the season. Moved to the leadoff slot the last day to increase his at bats, Mays collected three hits in the game to finish with a career-high .347, but Philadelphia Phillies' Richie Ashburn won the title with a .350 batting average.[50][51] Mays did manage to share the inaugural NL Player of the Month award with Stan Musial in May (no such award was given out in April until 1969), batting .405 with 12 HR and 29 RBI; he won a second such award in September (.434, 4 HR, 18 RBIs). He played all but two games for the Giants, but his 29 home runs were his lowest total since returning from the military.

Owner Horace Stoneham made Mays the highest-paid player in baseball with a $75,000 contract for 1959; Mays would be the highest-paid player through the 1972 season, with the exceptions of 1962 (when he and Mickey Mantle tied at $90,000) and 1966 (when Sandy Koufax received more in his final season).[52] Mays had his first serious injury in 1959, a collision with Sammy White in spring training that resulted in 35 stitches in his leg and two weeks of exhibition ball missed; however, he was ready for the start of the season.[53][54] During a series against the Reds in August, Mays also broke a finger but kept it a secret from other teams in order to keep opposing pitchers from throwing at it.[55] In 1959, the Giants led by two games with only eight games to play, but won just two of their remaining games and finished fourth, as their pitching staff collapsed due to overwork of their top hurlers. The Dodgers won the pennant following a playoff with the Milwaukee Braves.[56] As he did in New York, Mays would "play around" with kids playing sandlot ball in San Francisco. On three occasions in 1959 or 1960, he visited Julius Kahn Playground, five blocks from where he lived, including one time Giant players Jim Davenport and Tom Haller.[citation needed][clarification needed]

Alvin Dark was hired to manage the Giants before the start of the 1961 season and named Mays team captain. The improving Giants finished 1961 in third place and won 85 games, more than any of the previous six campaigns. Mays had one of his best games on April 30, 1961, hitting four home runs and driving in eight runs in a 14–4 win against the Milwaukee Braves at County Stadium. Mays went 4-for-5 at the plate and was on deck for a chance to hit a record fifth home run when the Giants' half of the ninth inning ended.[57][58] Mays is the only Major Leaguer to have both three triples in a game and four home runs in a game.[59][60] According to Mays, the four-homer game came after a night in which he got sick eating spareribs; Mays was not even sure he would play the next day until batting practice.[61]

Mays led the team in eight offensive categories in 1962. He hit a game-winning home run in the eighth inning against Turk Farrell of the Houston Colt .45's in the Giants' final regularly-scheduled game of the year September 30, forcing the team into a tie for first place with the Los Angeles Dodgers.[62][63] The Giants went on to win a three-game playoff series against the Dodgers, advancing to play in the World Series. The Giants lost to the Yankees in seven games, and Mays batted .250 with two extra-base hits. It was his last World Series appearance as a member of the Giants.

Before the 1963 season, Mays signed a contract worth a record-setting $105,000 per season (equivalent to $876,864 in 2019) in the same offseason during which Mickey Mantle signed a deal for what would have been a record-tying $100,000 per season.[48]:125

In the 1963 and 1964 seasons Mays batted in over 100 runs and hit 85 total home runs. On July 2, 1963, Mays played in a game when future Hall of Fame members Warren Spahn and Juan Marichal each threw 15 scoreless innings. In the bottom of the 16th inning, Mays hit a home run off Spahn for a 1–0 Giants victory.[64] He won his third NL Player of the Month Award in August (.387, 8 HR, 27 RBI). Normally the third hitter in the lineup, Mays was moved to fourth in the lineup in 1964 before returning to third in subsequent years.[65] Mays took part in another long game May 31, 1964, when, after playing all nine innings of the first Game of a doubleheader against the New York Mets, he played all 23 innings of the Giants' 8-6 victory in Game 2.[66] He was moved to shortstop for three innings of the game and grew so tired over the course of it that he used a 31-ounce bat (four ounces smaller than his standard) for his final at bat, in the 23rd inning.[67]

A torn shoulder muscle sustained in a game against Atlanta impaired Mays's ability to throw in 1965. He compensated for this by keeping the injury a secret from opposing players, making two or three practice throws before games to discourage players from running on him.[68] Mays won his second MVP award in 1965 behind a career-high 52 home runs. On August 22, 1965, Mays and Sandy Koufax acted as peacemakers during a 14-minute brawl between the Giants and Dodgers after San Francisco pitcher Juan Marichal had bloodied Dodgers catcher John Roseboro with a bat.[69] Mays grabbed Roseboro by the waist and helped him off the field, then tackled Lou Johnson to keep him from attacking an umpire. Johnson kicked him in the head and nearly knocked him out. After the brawl, Mays hit a game-winning three-run home run against the Koufax, but he did not finish the game, feeling dizzy after the home run.[70][71] Mays also won his fourth and final NL Player of the Month award in August (.363, 17 HR, 29 RBI), while setting the NL record for most home runs in the month of August (since tied by Sammy Sosa in 2001). On September 13, 1965, he hit his 500th career home run off Don Nottebart. Warren Spahn, off whom Mays hit his first career home run, was his teammate at the time. After the home run, Spahn greeted Mays in the dugout, asking "Was it anything like the same feeling?" Mays replied "It was exactly the same feeling. Same pitch, too."[72][b] The next night, Mays hit one that he considered his most dramatic. With the Giants trailing the Astros by two runs with two outs in the ninth, Mays swung and missed at the first two pitches, took three balls to load the count, and fouled off three pitches before hitting the tying home run off Claude Raymond on the ninth pitch of the at bat. The Giants went on to win 6-5 in 10 innings.[73][74]

Mays played in over 150 games for 13 consecutive years (a major-league record) from 1954 to 1966. Mays tied Mel Ott's NL record of 511 home runs on April 24 against the Astros. After that, he went nine days without a home run. "I started thinking home run every time I got up," Mays explained his slump.[75] He finally set the record May 4 with his 512th against Claude Osteen of the Dodgers.[76] In 1966, his last with 100 RBIs, Mays finished third in the National League MVP voting. It was the ninth and final time he finished in the top five in the voting for the award.[77][78] In 1970, the Sporting News named Mays as the 1960s "Player of the Decade."

Mays had 12 home runs and 38 RBI through his first 60 games of 1967 but went into a slump after that.[79] He came down with a fever July 14 and asked manager Herman Franks's permission for the night off but then had to play anyway after Ty Cline, his replacement, hurt himself in the first inning. Mays left the game after the sixth due to fatigue and spent the next five days in a hospital. "After I got back into the lineup, I never felt strong again for the rest of the season."[80][81] In 141 games (his lowest total since returning from the war), Mays hit .263 with 83 runs scored, 128 hits, and 22 home runs. He had only 70 RBI for the year, the first time since 1958 he had failed to reach 100.

"Maybe if I played a little first base in 1968, I could keep from getting tired," Mays speculated in his autobiography, but he only played one game at the position all year.[82][83] In Houston for a series against the Astros May 6, Mays was presented by Astro owner Roy Hofheinz with a 569-pound birthday cake for his 37th birthday—the pounds represented all the home runs Mays had hit in his career. After sharing some of it with his teammates, Mays sent the rest to the Texas Children's Hospital.[84] He played 148 games and upped his batting average to .289, accumulating 84 runs scored, 144 hits, 23 home runs, and 79 RBI.

In 1969, new Giants' manager Clyde King moved Mays to the leadoff role. King explained to Mays that this was because he was not "hitting home runs like he used to." Mays did not complain about the move in public that year but privately chafed at it, saying in his 1988 autobiography it was like "O. J. Simpson blocking for the fullback."[85] Mays hit his 600th home run off San Diego's Mike Corkins in September 1969. He said of the milestone, "Winning the game was more important to me than any individual achievements."[86] Plagued by injuries that season, he managed only 13 home runs. Mays enjoyed a resurgence in 1970, hitting 28 homers, and got off to a fast start in 1971, the year he turned 40. He had 15 home runs and a .290 average at the All-Star break but faded down the stretch, only hitting three home runs and batting .241 for the rest of the year.[87] One reason he hit so few home runs was that Mays walked 112 times, 30 more times than he had at any point in his career. This was partly because Willie McCovey, who often batted behind Mays in the lineup, missed several games with injuries, causing pitchers to pitch carefully to Mays so they could concentrate on getting less-skilled hitters out.[88][89] Mays helped the Giants win the division title that year, but they lost the 1971 NLCS to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

During his time on the Giants, Mays and fellow player Bobby Bonds were friends. When Bobby's son, Barry Bonds, was born, Bobby asked Mays to be Barry's godfather. Mays and the younger Bonds have maintained a close relationship ever since.[90]

New York Mets (1972–73)[]

In May 1972, 41-year-old Mays was traded to the Mets for pitcher Charlie Williams and $50,000 ($310,000 today).[91] At the time, the Giants franchise was losing money. Owner Horace Stoneham could not guarantee Mays a pension after retirement and the Mets offered Mays a coaching position upon his retirement.[92]

Mays had remained popular in New York long after the Giants had left for San Francisco, and the trade was seen as a public relations coup for the Mets. Mets owner Joan Payson, who was a minority shareholder of the Giants when the team was in New York, had long desired to bring Mays back to his baseball roots and was instrumental in making the trade.[93] In his Mets debut on a rainy Sunday afternoon at Shea Stadium on May 14, 1972, Mays put New York ahead to stay with a fifth-inning home run against Don Carrithers and his former team, the Giants. On August 16, 1973 of the following season, in a game against the Cincinnati Reds with Don Gullett on the mound, Mays hit a fourth inning solo home run over the right-center field fence. It was the 660th and final home run of his major league career.

Mays played a season and a half with the Mets before retiring; he appeared in 133 games. The Mets honored him on September 25, 1973 (Willie Mays Night), where he thanked the New York fans and said goodbye to baseball. He considered making that his final game, but Payson convinced him to finish out the season.[94] He finished his career in the 1973 World Series, which the Mets lost to the Oakland Athletics in seven games. Mays got the first hit of the Series, but had only seven at-bats (with two hits). The final hit of his career came in Game 2, a key single to help the Mets win. He also fell down in the outfield during a play where he was hindered by the glare of the sun and by the hard outfield. Mays later said, "growing old is just a helpless hurt." His final at bat came on October 16, in Game 3 where he came in as a pinch hitter but grounded into a force play. Mays had made his 20th and last All-Star appearance (20 seasons)[39] and 24th All-Star Game appearance[2] on July 24, 1973 when he was used as a pinch hitter.

In 1972 and 1973, Mays was the oldest regular position player in baseball. At age 42, he became the oldest position player to appear in a World Series game.[95] Mays retired after the 1973 season with a lifetime batting average of .302 and 660 home runs. His lifetime total of 7,095 outfield putouts remains the major league record.[96] Mays is the only major league player to have hit a home run in every inning from the 1st through the 16th innings.[97] He finished his career with a record 22 extra-inning home runs. He has the third-highest career power–speed number, behind Barry Bonds and Rickey Henderson, at 447.1.[98][99]


Mays was a popular figure in Harlem. Magazine photographers were fond of chronicling his participation in local stickball games with kids. It was said that in the urban game of hitting a rubber ball with an adapted broomstick handle, Mays could hit a shot that measured "six sewers" (the distance of six consecutive New York City manhole covers, nearly 300 feet).[100][101] Once he got married, Mays stopped playing stickball in order to devote more time to his family.[102]

Sudden collapses plagued Mays sporadically throughout his career, which occasionally led to hospital stays. He attributed them to his style of play. "My style was always to go all out, whether I played four innings or nine. That's how I played all my life, and I think that's the reason I would suddenly collapse from exhaustion or nervous energy or whatever it was called."[103]

During his career, Mays would charge a hundred dollars per on-air interview, more than the standard twenty-five dollars at the time. However, he would split the money four ways and give it to the last four players on the Giants' roster.[104]

Post-MLB baseball[]

Mays with Queen Elizabeth II (center) and First Lady Betty Ford (left) at the White House in 1976
Mays walks with President Bush, July 30, 2006

After Mays retired as a player, he remained an active personality. Just as he had during his playing days, Mays continued to appear on various TV shows, in films and in other forms of non-sports-related media. He remained in the New York Mets organization as their hitting instructor until the end of the 1979 season.[105] It was there where he taught future Mets star Lee Mazzilli his famous basket catch.[106]

On January 23, 1979, Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. He garnered 409 of the 432 ballots cast (94.68%);[107] referring to the other 23 voters, acerbic New York Daily News columnist Dick Young wrote, "If Jesus Christ were to show up with his old baseball glove, some guys wouldn't vote for him. He dropped the cross three times, didn't he?"[44] In his induction speech, Mays said, "What can I say? This country is made up of a great many things. You can grow up to be what you want. I chose baseball, and I loved every minute of it. I give you one word—love. It means dedication. You have to sacrifice many things to play baseball. I sacrificed a bad marriage and I sacrificed a good marriage. But I'm here today because baseball is my number one love."[108]

Mays took up golf a few years after his promotion to the major leagues and quickly became an accomplished player, playing to a handicap of about nine.[109] "I realized I could use a sport to keep me active once I hung up the glove," Mays said of golf. "I approach it the same way I did baseball. I want to win."[109] He discovered during the 1960s "that people would pay tremendous amounts of money just to play a round of golf with me. And, what the heck, I loved golf."[110] After he retired, he played golf frequently in the San Francisco area.[111]

Shortly after his Hall of Fame election, Mays took a job at the Park Place Casino (now Bally's Atlantic City) in Atlantic City, New Jersey. While there, he served as a Special Assistant to the Casino's President and as a greeter. After being told by Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn that he could not be a coach and baseball goodwill ambassador while at the same time working for Bally's, Mays chose to terminate his baseball relationships.[112] In 1985 Peter Ueberroth, Kuhn's successor, decided to allow Mays and Mickey Mantle to return to baseball.[113] Like Mays, Mantle had gone to work for an Atlantic City casino and had to give up any baseball positions he held.[114]

At the Pittsburgh drug trials in 1985, former Mets teammate John Milner testified that Mays kept a bottle of liquid amphetamine in his locker at Shea Stadium. Milner admitted, however, that he had never seen Mays use amphetamines and Mays himself denied ever having taken any drugs during his career.[115]

Since 1986, Mays has served as Special Assistant to the President of the San Francisco Giants. Mays' number 24 is retired by the San Francisco Giants. Oracle Park, the Giants stadium, is located at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. In front of the main entrance to the stadium is a larger-than-life statue of Mays. He also serves on the advisory board of the Baseball Assistance Team, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization dedicated to helping former Major League, Minor League, and Negro league players through financial and medical difficulties.

Special honors and tributes[]

Mays on September 28, 2008
SFGiants 24.png
Willie Mays's number 24 was retired by the San Francisco Giants in 1972.

Following Mays's MVP season of 1965, Sargent Shriver, head of the United States Job Corps, and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey asked Mays to speak to kids in the Job Corps. "Willie, the kids will listen to you. All you have to do is talk to them. They look up to you," Humphrey told Mays. Set to go on a nationwide tour, Mays passed out for five to ten minutes just before a meeting in Salt Lake City. He returned to San Francisco to rest, and Lou Johnson (whom he'd battled in a brawl earlier that year) stepped in to take his place.[116][117][118]

In 1975, Mays received the Golden Plate Award of the American Academy of Achievement[119]

When Mays' godson Barry Bonds tied him for third on the all-time home run list, Mays greeted and presented him with a diamond-studded Olympic torch (given to Mays when he carried the torch during its tour through the United States). In 1992, when Bonds signed a free agent contract with the Giants, Mays personally offered Bonds his retired #24 (the number Bonds wore in Pittsburgh) but Bonds declined, electing to wear #25 instead, honoring his father, Bobby Bonds, who wore that number with the Giants.[120]

Willie Mays Day was proclaimed by former mayor Willie Brown and reaffirmed by mayor Gavin Newsom to be every May 24 in San Francisco, paying tribute not only to his birth in the month (May 6), but also to his name (Mays) and jersey number (24). The date is also the anniversary of his call-up to the major leagues.[121]

On May 24, 2004, during the 50-year anniversary of The Catch, Mays received an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters degree from Yale University.[122]

On December 6, 2005, he received the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for his accomplishments on and off the field.

On July 30, 2006, he was the Tee Ball Commissioner at the 2006 White House Tee Ball Initiative.[123]

On June 10, 2007, Mays received an honorary doctorate from Dartmouth College.

At the 2007 All-Star Game in San Francisco, Mays received a special tribute for his legendary contributions to the game and threw out the ceremonial first pitch.

On December 5, 2007, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and First Lady Maria Shriver inducted Mays into the California Hall of Fame, located at The California Museum for History, Women and the Arts.[124]

President Barack Obama and Mays aboard Air Force One, July 14, 2009.

On June 4, 2008, Community Board 10 in Harlem voted unanimously to give the name "Willie Mays Drive" to an eight-block service road that connects to the Harlem River Drive from 155th Street to 163rd Street, running adjacent to the Polo Grounds.[125]

On May 23, 2009, Mays gave the commencement address at San Francisco State University and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.

On July 14, 2009, he accompanied U.S. President Barack Obama to St. Louis aboard Air Force One for the Major League All-Star Game.[126]

On March 19, 2010, he was inducted into the African-American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame.[127]

On May 6, 2010, on the occasion of his 79th birthday, Mays appeared on the floor of the California State Senate where they proclaimed it Willie Mays Day in the state.

On May 15, 2010, Mays was awarded the Major League Baseball Beacon of Life Award at the Civil Rights game at Great American Ball Park.

Mays has been mentioned or referenced in many popular songs. The Treniers recorded the song "Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)" in 1955. The band Widespread Panic makes reference to Mays in the song "One Arm Steve" from their album 'Til the Medicine Takes. Terry Cashman's song "Talkin' Baseball" has the refrain "Willie, Mickey and the Duke", which subsequently became the title of an award given by the New York Baseball Writers Association.[128] John Fogerty mentioned Mays, Ty Cobb and Joe DiMaggio in his song "Centerfield". His name was also used on the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan in the song "I Shall Be Free", and in Gil Scott-Heron's song "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." Chuck Prophet and Kurt Lipschutz (pen name, klipschutz) co-wrote the song "Willie Mays is Up at Bat" for Prophet's 2012 Temple Beautiful album, a tribute to San Francisco. Mays is also mentioned in "Our Song" by singer-songwriter Joe Henry from the 2007 album Civilians. He is also the subject of the 1994 Americana music song "Homerun Willie" by John Dunnigan.

Mays was mentioned numerous times in Charles M. Schulz's comic strip Peanuts. One of the most famous of these strips was originally published on February 9, 1966. In it, Charlie Brown is competing in a class spelling bee and he is asked to spell the word, "Maze". He erroneously spells it M-A-Y-S and screams out his dismay when he is eliminated. When Charlie Brown is later sent to the principal's office for raising his voice at the teacher regarding the incident, he wonders if one day he will meet Willie Mays and will have a good laugh together about the incident.[129]

Willie Mays Parkway and Willie Mays Park in Orlando, Florida were named after Mays.

Mays also appears on Calle 13's "Adentro" music video, where he gives to lead singer, René Pérez a bag containing a pair of sunglasses, a Roberto Clemente baseball uniform, and a baseball bat signed by him, which then was used by René to destroy his own luxury car, a Maserati, in an attempt to spread a message to youth about how irresponsible promoting of ostentatious luxury excesses in urban music as a status symbol, have them all killing each other.[130][131]

In the movies Major League and Major League II, the center fielder for the Cleveland Indians is named Willie Mays Hayes. He was originally portrayed by a then-unknown Wesley Snipes, but Omar Epps replaced Snipes in the sequel.

1956 Willie Mays Major League Negro-American All-Stars Tour[]

In 1956, Mays persuaded many of Major League Baseball's biggest black stars to go on a tour around the country after the season had ended to play exhibition games. While much of the tour was undocumented, one venue was Andrews Field,[132] located in Fort Smith, Arkansas, on October 16. Among the players who played in that game were Mays, Frank Robinson, Hank Aaron, Elston Howard, Monte Irvin, Gene Baker, Charlie Johnson, Sam Jones, Hank Thompson and Joe Black.

Presidential Medal of Freedom[]

In November 2015, Mays was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House.[133][134] At the ceremony Obama cred Mays' baseball career with his own success, saying, "Willie also served our country: In his quiet example while excelling on one of America's biggest stages [he] helped carry forward the banner of civil rights", adding, "It's because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for president."[134]

Willie Mays World Series Most Valuable Player Award[]

In September 2017, Major League Baseball announced their decision to rename the World Series Most Valuable Player Award after Mays, and it has since been referred to as the Willie Mays World Series Most Valuable Player Award. The first recipient of the rechristened award was Houston Astros Outfielder, George Springer.

Television appearances[]

In addition to appearances in baseball documentaries and on talk shows, Mays has appeared in several sitcoms over the years, always as himself. He appeared as the mystery guest during different incarnations of the long-running game show What's My Line?. He was in three episodes of ABC's The Donna Reed Show: "Play Ball" and "My Son the Catcher" (both 1964) and "Calling Willie Mays" (1966). Also in 1966, he appeared in the "Twitch or Treat" episode of Bewitched, in which Darrin Stephens asks if Mays is a warlock, and Samantha Stephens replies, "The way he hits? What else?"[135]

In 1989, Mays appeared in My Two Dads, in the episode "You Love Me, Right?", and in the episode "The Field" of Mr. Belvedere. Additionally, he performed "Say Hey: The Willie Mays Song" on episode 4.46 of the Colgate Comedy Hour in 1954.[136] Years later, Mays made a cameo appearance on a 2004 episode of Wheel of Fortune, while the series was taping on location in San Francisco. On February 10, 2010, Mays appeared on The Daily Show, discussing his career and a new biography, Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend, by James S. Hirsch.[137]

Mays also voiced himself in the 1972 animated film Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid.

Personal life[]

Mays married Marghuerite Wendell Chapman (1926–2010), a woman who had been married twice before, in 1956. Mays said, "We decided to get married so quickly, we had to go to Elkton, Maryland, where you didn't have to wait."[138][139] They adopted a son Michael, five days after he was born in 1959.[138][140] Mays remembered driving Michael around the block as an infant to put him to sleep.[140] The couple separated in 1962, with Marghuerite taking Michael for the majority of the time. They formally divorced in 1963. The divorce hearings often took place the mornings of Giants games, once causing Mays to be late to one.[141] Eight years later, Mays married Mae Louise Allen.[142] Wilt Chamberlain gave Mays her number in 1961, and they had their first date in Pittsburgh when the Giants were in town for a Pirates game. They dated off and on the next several years before Mays finally proposed; they were married in Mexico City over Thanksgiving weekend in 1971.[143] She died on April 19, 2013, after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.[142]

Following Mays's 3,000th hit in 1971, the Giants presented Michael with a four-year college scholarship.[144]

When Mays first joined the Giants, Forbes made arrangements for him to stay with David and Anna Goosby, who lived on St. Nicholas Avenue and 151st Street. "Mrs. Goosby reminded me of my Aunt Sarah, the way she took care of me," Mays said. "Her husband was a kind man who had retired from the railroad. They made me feel at home."[145] Just before his marriage in 1956, he bought a home near Columbia University in Upper Manhattan.[146] When the Giants moved to San Francisco, Mays bought a house in the Sherwood Woods neighborhood adjacent to St. Francis Wood, San Francisco in 1957.[147] However, the purchase was initially met with backlash from neighbors who urged developer Walter Gnesdiloff to reconsider the repercussions "if colored people moved in".[147] According to Mays, when mayor George Christopher heard he had been denied housing, he offered to share his house with Mays and his wife until they could get one. Ultimately, Mays and his wife moved into the house in November of 1957, and Mays wrote that when a brick was thrown through the window, "Some neighbors actually called to ask if they could help. So I didn't feel concerned about racial tensions in my neighborhood once the [1958] season was about to start."[148] They only lived there for two years before moving back to New York.[149] As of 2000, Mays lived in Atherton, California, in a house he bought in 1969.[150]

A frequent traveler, Mays is one of 66 holders of American Airlines' lifetime passes.[151]

In 2020, Mays will publish his memoir, 24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid (with John Shea; St. Martin's Press, 2020).[152]

"Say Hey Kid" and other nicknames[]

Willie Mays tribute display at Oracle Park in San Francisco, California

It is not clear how Mays became known as the "Say Hey Kid." One story is that in 1951, Barney Kremenko, a writer for the New York Journal, began to refer to Mays as the 'Say Hey Kid' after he overheard Mays say, "'Say who,' 'Say what,' 'Say where,' 'Say hey'".[153] Another story is that Jimmy Cannon created the nickname because Mays did not know everybody's names when he arrived in the minors. "You see a guy, you say, 'Hey, man. Say hey, man,'" Mays said. "Ted [Williams] was the 'Splinter'. Joe [DiMaggio] was 'Joltin' Joe'. Stan [Musial] was 'The Man'. I guess I hit a few home runs, and they said 'There goes the 'Say Hey Kid."[154]

Years before he became the "Say Hey Kid", when he began his professional career with the Black Barons, Mays was called "Buck" by teammates and fans.[155] Some Giants players referred to him, their team captain, as "Cap."

See also[]


  1. ^ MLB Awards | MLB.com: History
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  4. ^ National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum: The Hall of Famers
  5. ^ Willie's Time, by Charles Einstein.
  6. ^
  7. ^ Jesse Chambers (August 2, 2013). "New film remembers long-gone West Jefferson community of Westfield, home of Mays, Clemon". The Birmingham News.
  8. ^ Mays, p. 19
  9. ^ James S. Hirsch (2010). Willie Mays: The Life, the Legend. Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 11. ISBN 978-1-4165-4790-7.
  10. ^ a b Hirsch, p. 12
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  13. ^ Mays, pp. 18-19
  14. ^ Freedman, Lew (2007). African American Pioneers of Baseball. Greenwood Press, 88 Post Road West, Westport, CT 06881: Lew Freedman. p. 152. ISBN 978-0-313-33851-9.CS1 maint: location (link)
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  26. ^ June 22, 1950 letter from Eddie Montague to Jack Schwarz
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  75. ^ Mays, p. 231
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  77. ^ He also finished sixth in the balloting three times.
  78. ^ They Wuz Robbed: Tales of Head-Scratching MVP Voting, Baseball Prospectus, Mark Armour, September 5, 2003. This article presents a case that Mays should have won the MVP for the National League a minimum of 5 times and perhaps as many as 9 times. Instead, the author argues his case that baseball writers like to both spread the wealth and recognize key players on pennant-winning teams.
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  86. ^ Mays, p. 241
  87. ^ "Willie Mays 1971 Batting Gamelogs". Baseball-Reference. Retrieved March 25, 2020.
  88. ^ Mays, p. 246
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  91. ^ "Mays Trade (at bottom)". Retrieved October 22, 2006.
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  93. ^ Post, Paul; and Lucas, Ed. "Turn back the clock: Willie Mays played a vital role on '73 mets; despite his age, future Hall of Famer helped young New York club capture the 1973 National League pennant" Archived May 6, 2007, at the Wayback Machine, Baseball Digest, March 2003. Accessed July 15, 2008. "Mets owner Joan Payson had always wanted to bring the 'Say Hey Kid' back to his baseball roots, and she finally pulled it off in a deal that shocked the baseball world."
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  101. ^ Willie Mays & Stickball in Harlem Retrieved April 9, 2011
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  111. ^ Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend, by James Hirsch, 2010.
  112. ^ Mays leaves baseball
  113. ^ Ueberroth reinstates Mays, Mantle to baseball
  114. ^ Bowie bounces Mantle
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  125. ^ Lombardi, Frank (July 5, 2008). "Street fight leaves Willie Mays benched". New York Daily News.
  126. ^ Willie Mays aboard Air Force One with President Obama on YouTube
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  129. ^ Charles M. Schulz MuseumWillie Mays and A Charlie Brown Christmas | Charles M. Schulz Museum
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  140. ^ a b Mays, p. 152
  141. ^ Mays, pp. 201-02
  142. ^ a b Shea, John (April 19, 2013). "Willie Mays' wife, Mae, dies at 74". San Francisco Chronicle.
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  144. ^ Mays, p. 243
  145. ^ Mays, p. 75
  146. ^ Mays, p. 134
  147. ^ a b Kelley, T., VerPlanck, C., & Williams, Al. (2016) African American Historic Context Statement Retrieved November 12, 2019 from San Francisco Planning Department Website: https://default.sfplanning.org/Preservation/african_american_HCS/AfricanAmericanHistoricContextStatement_Draft_Jan2016.pdf Archived April 19, 2019, at the Wayback Machine
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  149. ^ Mays, p. 154
  150. ^ Dickey, Glen (June 9, 2000). "Fans Must Learn To Let Go of Stars". San Francisco Chronicle.
  151. ^ Bensinger, Ken (May 5, 2012). "The frequent fliers who flew too much". Los Angeles Times.
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  1. ^ Mays's autobiography has the account slightly differently. He remembered the houselights coming on in the middle of a movie and someone mounting the stage to announce, "If Willie Mays is in the audience, would he please report immediately to his manager at the hotel."[30]
  2. ^ Mays's autobiography records the conversation slightly differently. "I threw you the first one and now I've seen the five-hundredth," Spahn said. "Was it the same feeling?" "Same feeling. Same pitch," Mays replied.[73]


External links[]

Awards and achievements
Preceded by
Lew Burdette
Willie McCovey
Pete Rose
Major League Player of the Month
May 1958 (with Stan Musial)
September 1958
August 1963
August 1965
Succeeded by
Frank Thomas
Hank Aaron & Harvey Haddix
Billy Williams
Juan Marichal
Preceded by
Rocky Colavito
Batters with 4 home runs in one game
April 30, 1961
Succeeded by
Mike Schmidt