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|Birth||May 6, 1931, Westfield, Alabama|
|Debut||May 25, 1951, New York Giants vs. Philadelphia Phillies, Shibe Park|
|Team(s)|| New York Giants (1951-1957)|
San Francisco Giants (1958-1972)
New York Mets (1972-1973)
Willie Howard Mays Jr. (born May 6, 1931 in Westfield, Alabama outside nearby Birmingham) is a former star baseball player and an American icon. Mays, nicknamed The Say Hey Kid, was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility. During his playing days, Mays won two MVP awards and made twenty-four appearances in the All-Star Game.
Mays' first major league manager, Leo Durocher, described his abundance of talent thusly: "He could do the five things you have to do to be a superstar: hit, hit with power, run, throw, and field. And he had that other ingredient that turns a superstar into a super superstar. He lit up the room when he came in. He was a joy to be around."
Upon his Hall of Fame election, Mays was asked to name the best player that he had seen during his career. Mays replied, "I don't mean to be bashful, but I was."
Mays' athleticism was evident from an early age. At high school he played quarterback on the football team, and was offered college scholarships in both football and basketball. Mays opted to play professional baseball instead of attending college. In 1947 he played briefly with the Chattanooga Choo-Choos in Tennessee. Shortly there after, Mays returned to his home state and joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. The Black Barons paid him one dollar per game to play center field for them. He was scouted by a number of teams over the next several years. Finally, in 1950 Mays signed with the New York Giants and went to their Class-B affiliate in Trenton, New Jersey.
While in New Jersey, Mays was exposed to many examples of racism. He was forced to stay in a black-owned hotel during his first road trip with the team to Hagerstown, Maryland. Mays was also subjected to racial taunts from the crowd, but gained a measure of revenge by hitting two home runs and a double.
After Mays hit .353 in Trenton, he began the 1951 season at AAA Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. With the Millers, Mays displayed his offensive skills and defensive ability. After he hit .477 in 35 games, Mays was called up to the major leagues in May, 1951. Giants owner Horace Stoneham took out a full page advertisement in several Minneapolis newspapers, apologizing for taking him away from the Millers.
New York Giants yearsEdit
Mays started his career hitless in his first 12 at bats.On his 13th at bat he hit a homer over the left field roof of the Polo Grounds off of a Warren Spahn fastball (but still started 1 for 26) . From then on, Mays' steadily improved his hitting. Although his .274 average, 68 RBI and 20 homers (in 121 games) would be among the lowest of his career, he still won the 1951 Rookie of the Year Award. During the Giants' amazing comeback in August and September 1951 to overtake the Dodgers in the 1951 pennant race, Mays' fielding and great arm were often instrumental to several important Giant victories. Mays ended the regular season as an on-deck batter when Bobby Thomson hit the Shot Heard 'Round the World against the Brooklyn Dodgers.
The Giants met the New York Yankees in the 1951 World Series. Mays hit poorly and the Giants lost the series four games to two games. The six-game set was the only time that Mays and the aging Joe DiMaggio would play on the same field.
Mays was drafted into the U.S. Army early in the 1952 season. As a result of the conflict in Korea, he missed most of 1952 and all of the 1953 season. This was despite the fact that he did not see any combat action.
'Say Hey' returned in 1954. He won his only batting title that year and also became the first big leaguer to hit 30 home runs before the All-Star break (31). The race for the title was so close that Mays did not secure the crown until the last day of the season. Mays hit .345 with 41 home runs and the Giants went on to win the National League pennant and the World Series. Although the Giants swept the Cleveland Indians, the series is remembered most for a single Mays moment.
- Main article: The Catch
In Game 1, Cleveland's Vic Wertz hit a long drive to deep center field. Mays was able to catch the ball over his shoulder. The event has become noted in baseball history and is sometime referred to as The Catch. The Giants, on the heels of the play, kept the score tied at 2-2 in the 8th inning. The Giants finally won the game 5-2, on Dusty Rhodes' 3-run pinch-hit home run off Bob Lemon in the bottom of the 10th inning.
'The Catch' is not to be confused with the "basket catch." Mays also popularized the later by fielding fly balls with a double-handed scoop around the belt buckle.
Mays went on to perform at a high level each of the last three years the Giants were in New York City. In 1957, he won the first of twelve consecutive Gold Glove Awards. At the same time, Mays continued to finish in the NL's top 5 in a variety of offensive categories.
San Francisco yearsEdit
After the 1957 season, the Giants franchise relocated to San Francisco. Shortly thereafter, Mays bought a palatial home in nearby Atherton.
Despite playing the majority of his games in a new city, Mays continued to place at or near the top of the league rankings in many statistical categories. For example, Mays' quest for the NL batting title came down to the final game of the 1958 season, just as it had in 1954. In his final regular season game, Mays collected three hits. Unfortunately for Mays, the Philadelphia Phillies' Richie Ashburn won the title.
The Giants were not one of the top teams in the National League between the years 1955 and 1960. During that span, the team never finished higher than 3rd place or won more than 83 games in an individual season. In an attempt to improve the team, the Giants hired former Giant player Alvin Dark before the start of the 1961 season. Dark promptly named Mays the team captain and the team showed improvement on the field. They finished the '61 season in third place and won 85 games, more than they had in any of the previous six campaigns.
The Giants won the National League pennant in 1962. That year, Mays played in 162 games, batted .304, and led the team in eight major offensive categories. The season was not without turmoil or noteworthy moments. The team actually finished the 162-game regular season in a tie for first place with the Los Angeles Dodgers. The Giants went on to win a three-game playoff series versus the Dodgers and advanced to play in the World Series. Unfortunately for them, the Giants lost to the Yankees in seven games. Mays hit just .250 with only two extra-base hits. It was his last World Series appearance as a member of the Giants.
In both the 1963 and 1964 seasons Mays scored over 100 runs, batted in over 100 runs, and hit 85 total home runs. On July 6, 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 of Spahn to win the game 1-0. 1964 marked the end of Alvin Dark's tenure as the Giants manager. The Giants hired Herman Franks after Dark left.
Mays won his second MVP award in 1965 behind a career-high 52 home runs. In fact, Mays hit career home run number 500 on September 13, 1965 off Don Nottebart. Warren Spahn, who Mays hit his first career home run off of, was on the Giants at the time. After the home run, Spahn greeted Mays in the dugout. Spahn asked: "Was it anything like the same feeling?" Mays replied "It was exactly the same feeling [and the] same pitch, too."
On August 22, 1965 Willie and Sandy Koufax acted as peacemakers during a 14-minute brawl between the Giants and Dodgers. The brawl broke out after an incident between San Francisco pitcher Juan Marichal and Dodgers catcher John Roseboro.
Mays played in over 150 games for 13 consecutive years (a major league record), from 1954 to 1966, his last 100-RBI season. That season, he finished 3rd in the NL MVP voting. It was the ninth and final time he finished in the top 5 in the voting for the award. In 1970, the Sporting News named Mays as the "Player of the Decade" for the 1960s.
Willie hit career home run number 600 off San Diego's Mike Corkins in September of 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, when he turned 40. He had 15 home runs at the All Star break, but faded down the stretch and finished with 18.
New York Mets yearsEdit
Mays continued to play with the Giants until partway through the 1972 season. He was traded to the New York Mets for Charlie Williams and $50,000. At the time, the Giants Franchise was losing money. Owner Horace Stoneham could not guarantee Mays an income after retirement and the Mets offered Mays a position as a coach upon his retirement.
In his Mets debut, Mays hit a game-winning home run in the 5th inning. Mays' tenure with the Mets was relatively short. He played part of the 1972 season and all of the 1973 season before he retired. However, he only played in 133 games with the team. Even though he only played sparingly in 1973, Mays was on the roster for the Mets when the team appeared in the 1973 World Series. The Mets did not play well and lost the series to the Oakland Athletics. Mays only registered seven at-bats in the series. When he retired after the 1973 season Mays had a lifetime batting average of.302 and 660 home runs.
After Mays stopped playing baseball, he remained an active person. 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.
On January 23, 1979, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. It was his first year of eligibility and he had appeared on 409 of the 432 ballots cast (94.7%) . Shortly after, he took a job at the Park Place (now Bally's Atlantic City) casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. While there, he served as a Special Assistant to the President and as a greeter. Hall of Famer Mickey Mantle was also a greeter during that time. When he heard of this, Baseball Commissioner Bowie Kuhn suspended both men from involvement in organized baseball. Peter Ueberroth, Kuhn's successor, lifted the suspension in 1985.
On December 6, 2005 he was recognized for his accomplishments on and off of the field when he received the Bobby Bragan Youth Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award.
Since 1986, Willie Mays has served as Special Assistant to the President of the San Francisco Giants.
Origin of "Say Hey Kid" Nickname Edit
There is some debate as to how Mays became known as the "Say Hey Kid". One story is that Barney Kremenko, a writer for the New York Journal heard Mays blurt "'Say who,' 'Say what,' 'Say where,' 'Say hey.'" As a result, Kremenko penned him the 'Say Hey Kid' in 1951.
The other story is that Jimmy Cannon created the nickname. According to this account, When Mays arrived in the majors, he did not know everyone's name. "You see a guy, you say, 'Hey, man. Say hey, man,' " Mays said. "Ted was the 'Splinter'. Joe was 'Joltin' Joe'. Stan was 'The Man'. I guess I hit a few home runs, and they said there goes the 'Say Hey Kid.'"
- In 1981, Mays was a focal point of the nostalgic Terry Cashman song "Talkin' Baseball (Willie, Mickey, and the Duke)", which celebrated the three center fielders who had played so well for competing teams in New York City during the 1950s.
- 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. While the Mets have not formally retired number 24, it has been issued only twice since Mays left the organization.
- Mays is the godfather of baseball star Barry Bonds. When Bonds tied Mays for third on the all -time home run list, Mays greeted and presented him with a diamond-studded Olympic torch (given to Mays for his role in carrying the Olympic Torch during its tour through the U.S.). 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 .
- In 1999, Willie Mays ranked number 2 on The Sporting News 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 the only MLB player to have hit a home run in every inning from the 1st through the 16th. He finished his career with a record 22 extra-inning home runs.
- Mays' 7,095 putouts are the record for center fielders.
- Mays was part of the first all-black outfield in major league history, along with Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson, in Game One of the 1951 World Series.
- Mays is one of three NL players to have eight consecutive 100-RBI seasons, along with Mel Ott and Sammy Sosa.
- Mays is the only Major Leaguer to have both a 3 triple game and a 4 home run game.
- Is mentioned in Widespread Panic's song "One Arm Steve".
- Is mentioned in the Wu-Tang Clan song "For Heaven's Sake."
- Is mentioned in Bob Dylan's 1963 song, "I Shall Be Free", from the album The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan. http://bobdylan.com/moderntimes/songs/befree.html
- Is mentioned in Star Trek: Deep Space 9 season 5 episode 25 "In the Cards".
- In the Belle & Sebastian's 2003 song, "Piazza, New York Catcher", the singer says: "San Francisco’s calling us, the Giants and Mets will play... the statue is crying too, and well he may", and pronounces it ambiguously as "the statue is crying too and Willie May".
- Mays batted and threw right handed.
References and notes Edit
- ↑ 
- ↑ He also finished 6th in the balloting three times.
- ↑ Mays Trade (at bottom). Retrieved on 2006-10-22.
- ↑ Mays on the imdb. Retrieved on 2006-10-22.
- ↑ Mays earns his nickname. Retrieved on 2006-10-21.
- ↑ Article on Mays. Retrieved on 2006-10-21.
- David Pietrusza, Matthew Silverman & Michael Gershman, ed. (2000). Baseball: The Biographical Encyclopedia. Total/Sports Illustrated.
- "Willie's Time: A Memoir Of Another America", by Charles Einstein
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