WILLIE MAYS PASSES AT 93

WILLIE MAYS PASSES AT 93

By: John Shea

Willie Mays, the iconic and endearing “Say Hey Kid” who charmed countless fans with his brilliant athleticism and graceful style and was widely considered baseball’s greatest and most entertaining player, died Tuesday of heart failure. He was 93. “My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” said Mays’ son, Michael Mays. “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.” The legendary slugger and center fielder was synonymous with the game of baseball, the Giants and San Francisco, where his 9-foot-tall bronze statue has greeted fans for more than two decades in front of Oracle Park at 24 Willie Mays Plaza. Mays was looking forward to Major League Baseball’s tribute to the Negro Leagues on Thursday day at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., where he starred as a teenager with the Birmingham Black Barons.
“Today we have lost a true legend,” Giants chairman Greg Johnson said. “In the pantheon of baseball greats, Willie Mays’ combination of tremendous talent, keen intellect, showmanship, and bound-less joy set him apart. A 24-time All-Star, the Say Hey Kid is the ultimate Forever Giant. He had a profound influence not only on the game of baseball, but on the fabric of America. He was an inspiration and a hero who will be forever remembered and deeply missed.”

Giants CEO Larry Baer added, “I fell in love with baseball because of Willie, plain and simple. My childhood was defined by going to Candlestick with my Dad, watching Willie patrol center field 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.”  Mays spent most of his 23-year playing career with the Giants, six in New York and 15 in San Francisco, making him a cherished superstar from coast to coast. He hit 660 home runs, made 24 All-Star appearances and won 12 Gold Gloves. He likely would have won more, but the award wasn’t given out until Mays’ sixth season.

The consummate five-tool player, Mays was elite at hitting, hitting for power, defending, throwing and base running, and his ability to out think and outsmart the competition served as a valuable sixth tool. Mays wowed the baseball world with his aggressive (sometimes unorthodox) swings, patented basket catches and daring speed. He’d wear his cap a size too small so that it would fly off when he took off in the outfield or on the bases, putting a charge into fans. “No player is better defined by how he did it than what he did than Willie Mays,” said San Francisco-based actor Danny Glover at Mays’ 90th birthday bash at Oracle Park. As a youngster, Glover watched the center fielder play in the late 1950s at Seals Stadium.

Fans react: How those gathering at Willie Mays Plaza are mourning a legend Feats of greatness: Willie Mays, seen through key numbers and historic feats Photos from the Chronicle archive: Willie Mays, cultural icon A pioneer who broke down barriers on and off the field, Mays received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama in 2015, a half-century after he was named the first African American team captain in MLB history. Mays said he never could have envisioned a Black president in his lifetime. At the White House medal ceremony, Obama told the crowd, “It’s because of giants like Willie that some-one like me could even think about running for president.”

Throughout his life, Mays helped countless people in many ways including through his Say Hey Foundation, which is dedicated to providing positive opportunities for under-privileged youth.
“I do what I can for people, man,” Mays said in a May 2021 Chronicle interview, shortly before his 90th birth-day. “When the kids ask me for something, I give it to them. Let them have it because they’re going to be here after I’m gone, and I want the kids to enjoy what they can enjoy.” Mays was born in Westfield, Ala., just outside Birmingham, to very young parents, Willie Howard Mays Sr. and Annie Satterwhite, and was raised largely by his mother’s sisters, Sarah and Ernestine. Willie Sr. wasn’t always around; he worked in a steel mill and as a Pullman porter and also made money playing ball. Still, Mays called his father the biggest inspiration in his life. “Cat,” as his dad was nicknamed because of his quickness on the field, introduced Willie to baseball and played with him on an industrial league team.

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