Baseball Great Willie Mays Passes Away at 93

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Willie Mays, whose baseball career started in the Negro American League and ended with him acclaimed as one of the greatest players, if not the single greatest baseball player in the game’s history, passed away from heart failure on June 18, 2024. Mays was 93.

Mays signed with the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948 when he was 17. He played with Birmingham until 1950, when he signed with the then-New York Giants upon graduating high school. Mays first played with the Giants in 1951, winning National League Rookie of the Year and helping the Giants win the pennant. Mays was in the on-deck circle when Bobby Thompson hit “the shot heard around the world” off Ralph Branca. He again led the Giants to the pennant in 1954, this time winning the World Series. Mays appeared in two more World Series, one with the now-San Francisco Giants in 1962 and the other with the New York Mets in 1973, his final season in Major League Baseball.

Mays’ career statistics remain astonishing. He was selected to the All-Star Game 24 times. He won the National League Most Valuable Player award twice. His 660 career home runs were second to Babe Ruth at the time of Mays’ retirement. Mays won 12 Gold Glove Awards. He led the National League in stolen bases four times. Mays led the National League in home runs four times. He was the first player in National League history to have 30 home runs and 30 stolen bases in the same season. Making his career stats all the more remarkable is that Mays missed most of the 1952 and all of the 1953 seasons as the Army drafted him following the 1951 season. Had he not missed some 266 games due to his military service, it is not beyond possibility that Mays, not Hank Aaron, would have broken Ruth’s home run record.

Mays was my first sports hero. Growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, the Giants were the only game in town until I was nine when the A’s moved from Kansas City to Oakland. Night after night was spent with a transistor radio under the pillow so my parents wouldn’t catch me long after my prescribed bedtime listening to Russ Hodges and Lon Simmons call Giants games from the miserable freezing blight by the Bay, otherwise known as Candlestick Park. I poured through the local paper’s sports section daily, devouring every word about the Giants. The team had no shortage of stars during that time, as alongside Mays were Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal, among others. But to me, Mays was always first.

I remember my first Giants game. It was Bat Day at Candlestick Park. The Giants lost to Ferguson Jenkins and the Chicago Cubs 4-0. Ironically, many years later, I became a Cubs fan. Equally ironically, the Giants were playing the Cubs tonight, this time at Wrigley Field, when the announcement came regarding Mays’ passing. The Cubs won 5-2.

Mays was an indelible part of my and every other San Francisco Bay Area kid’s life growing up. His skill, along with the joy and passion he had for the game throughout his playing years and afterward when he worked with the Giants, made him one of the most beloved figures not only in San Francisco Bay Area sports history but also in American sports period.

Godspeed, Willie Mays.

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