Mays in 1961
Born: May 6, 1931|
|May 25, 1951, for the New York Giants|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 9, 1973, for the New York Mets|
|Runs batted in||1,903|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||94.7% (first ballot)|
Willie Howard Mays, Jr. (born May 6, 1931), nicknamed "The Say Hey Kid", is an American former Major League Baseball (MLB) center fielder who spent almost all of his 22-season career playing for the New York/San Francisco Giants, before finishing with the New York Mets. He 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.
Mays shares the record of most All-Star Games played with 24, with Hank Aaron and Stan Musial. In appreciation of his All-Star record, Ted Williams said "They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays."
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 baseball player of all time. In 1999, Mays placed second on The Sporting Newss "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.
Mays was born in 1931 in Westfield, Alabama. His father, Cat Mays, was a talented baseball player with the Negro team for the local iron plant. His mother, Annie Satterwhite, was a gifted basketball and track star in high school. His parents never married. As a baby, Mays was cared for by his mother's younger sisters Sarah and Ernestine. Sarah became the primary female role model in Mays' life. His father exposed him to baseball at an early age, and by the age of five he was playing catch with his father. At age 10, Mays was allowed to sit on the bench of his father's League games.
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. Mays graduated from Fairfield in 1950.
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. A short time later, Mays left the Choo-Choos and returned to his home state to join the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. Mays helped them win the pennant and advance to the 1948 Negro League World Series, where they lost the series 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. By playing professionally with the Black Barons, Mays jeopardized his opportunities to play high school sports in Alabama. This created some problems for him with high school administrators at Fairfield, who wanted him to help the teams and ticket sales.
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 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.
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." 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.
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 over the left field roof of the Polo Grounds off of future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. Spahn later joked, "I'll never forgive myself. We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if I'd only struck him out." Mays's 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. 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 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. Mays hit poorly while the Giants lost the series 4-2. The six-game set was the only time that Mays and retiring Yankee ace Joe DiMaggio would compete against each other.
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).
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. It was at Fort Eustis that Mays learned the basket catch from a fellow Fort Eustis outfielder, Jerry Salvador. Mays missed about 266 games due to military service.
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 was selected as an All-Star for the first of 19 consecutive seasons (20 total) and replaced Jackie Robinson in left field during the 4th inning of the All-Star Game. 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, the catch prevented two Indian runners from scoring, preserving a tie game. 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 went on to perform at a high level each of the last three years the Giants were in New York. In 1955, he led the league with 51 home runs. 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 become 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.
After the 1957 season, the Giants franchise relocated to San Francisco, California. Mays bought two homes in San Francisco, then lived in nearby Atherton. As he did in 1954, Mays vied for the National League batting title in 1958 until the final game of the season. 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. He 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).
In 1959, the Giants led by two games with only eight games to play, but only won 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. 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.[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. Mays is the only Major Leaguer to have both three triples in a game and four home runs in a game.
The Giants won the National League pennant in 1962, with Mays leading the team in eight offensive categories. The team finished the regular season in a tie for first place with the Los Angeles Dodgers, and 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.
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. He won his third NL Player of the Month Award in August (.387, 8 HR, 27 RBI).
Mays won his second MVP award in 1965 behind a career-high 52 home runs. 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." 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. He 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).
Mays played in over 150 games for 13 consecutive years (a major-league record) from 1954 to 1966. 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. In 1970, the Sporting News named Mays as the 1960s "Player of the Decade."
Mays hit his 600th home run off San Diego's Mike Corkins in September 1969. 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 at the All-Star break but faded down the stretch and finished with 18. Mays helped the Giants win the division title that year, but they lost the 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.
In May 1972, 41-year-old Mays was traded to the Mets for pitcher Charlie Williams and $50,000 ($292,522 today). 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.
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. 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 last, 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 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 made his 20th and last All-Star appearance (20 seasons) and 24th All-Star Game appearance 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. 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. Mays is the only major league player to have hit a home run in every inning from the 1st through the 16th innings. He finished his career with a record 22 extra-inning home runs.
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. It was there where he taught future Mets star Lee Mazzilli his famous basket catch.
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 (roughly 95 percent); 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?"
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 four. After he retired, he played golf frequently in the San Francisco area.
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 both a coach and baseball goodwill ambassador while at the same time working for Bally's, Mays chose to terminate his baseball relationships. In 1985 Peter Ueberroth, Kuhn's successor, decided to allow Mays and Mickey Mantle to return to baseball. Like Mays, Mantle had gone to work for an Atlantic City casino and had to give up any baseball positions he held.
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.
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. AT&T 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.
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.
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.
On December 6, 2005, he received the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for his accomplishments on and off the field.
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.
On June 4, 2008, Community Board 10 in Harlem voted unanimously to name an eight-block service road that connects to the Harlem River Drive from 155th Street to 163rd Street running adjacent to his beloved Polo Grounds--Willie Mays Drive.
On May 23, 2009, Mays gave the commencement address at San Francisco State University and received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
On March 19, 2010, he was inducted into the African-American Ethnic Sports Hall of Fame.
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.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.
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's baseball uniform, and a baseball bat signed by him, who then will be used by René to destroy his own luxury car, a Maserati, in an attempt to widespread a message to youth about how irresponsible promoting of ostentatious luxury excesses in urban music as a status symbol, have them all killing between themselves.
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.
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, 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.
In November 2015, Mays was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama during a ceremony at the White House. At the ceremony Obama credited 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."
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?" In 1989, he appeared in My Two Dads, in the episode "You Love Me, Right?", and in the episode "The Field" of Mr. Belvedere. Additionally, he had performed "Say Hey: The Willie Mays Song" on episode 4.46 of the Colgate Comedy Hour in 1954.
Mays also voiced himself in the 1972 animated film Willie Mays and the Say-Hey Kid.
Mays married Marghuerite Wendell Chapman (1926-2010) in 1956, and they adopted their son Michael, who was born in 1959. The couple divorced in 1962 or 1963, varying by source. Mays married Mae Louise Allen in November 1971. Allen died on April 19, 2013, after a long battle with Alzheimer's disease.
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'". 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."
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. Some Giants players referred to him, their team captain, as "Cap."