Wednesday, June 19, 2024

RIP Willie Mays

I didn’t go baseball crazy until the late 1970s, so I missed all the hoopla by a handful of years. But anyone who knows a little about the game knows that one highlight of Willie Mays sprinting straight towards the outfield wall with the #24 on his back facing directly to home plate. The ball somehow magically drops in straight over the back of his head and into his waist-high glove.

Perhaps most pertinent here, Mays was a fixture in pop-culture commentary, by the likes of Woody Allen, Peanuts, and songs “Say Hey (the Willie Mays Song)” in 1954 by the Treniers and “Talkin’ Baseball (Willie, Mickey, and The Duke)” in 1981 by Terry Cashman.

Here’s the line on Mays, who has passed away at the age of 93 in Palo Alto, California, from heart failure:

  • He played in the Negro League as a teen and then from 1951 to 1973 for the Giants, first in New York and then when the team moved to San Francisco. He missed time from 1952 to 1954 for his stint in the Army.
  • A case can be made that he’s the greatest baseball player ever, including the full package of speed, arm strength, excellent fielding, home-run hitting, and hitting for average.
  • He was the oldest living member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.
  • His nickname, “The Say Hey Kid,” was based on his optimism and his love for the game.
  • Mays had a lifetime .301 average, with 660 homers and 3,293 hits. He was named to 24 All-Star teams and awarded 12 Gold Gloves. Ridiculous numbers.
  • He finished his career third overall in home runs at the time behind only Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.
  • He made more than a few of those over-the-shoulder catches but that famous one was in the 1954 World Series against Cleveland, and that was his only championship.
  • Mays came along four years after color-barrier-breaking Jackie Robinson, which was fortuitous for Mays because Americans were getting TVs en masse so he became an even more massive superstar than would have been possible just a few years earlier.
  • While Robinson became an outspoken hero of civil-rights causes, Mays laid low on that front and, in a different way, did his part to bring whites and Blacks together, if only because so many white fans enjoyed watching him play so much.

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