Baseball legend Willie Mays dead at 93

Facebook/Fox 32 Chicago

Story By Mike Axisa/CBS MLB

Mays won the World Series with the Giants in 1954 and was named NL MVP in 1954 and 1965

Hall of Famer Willie Mays, one of the greatest players to ever live, passed away peacefully Tuesday afternoon, the San Francisco Giants announced. He was 93.

Commissioner Rob Manfred released the following statement regarding Mays:

“All of Major League Baseball is in mourning today as we are gathered at the very ballpark where a career and a legacy like no other began.  Willie Mays took his all-around brilliance from the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League to the historic Giants franchise.  From coast to coast in New York and San Francisco, Willie inspired generations of players and fans as the game grew and truly earned its place as our National Pastime. 

“Just as his career was ascending, Willie served his country in the U.S. Army in 1952 and 1953.  As the 1954 NL MVP, he led the Giants to victory in the World Series, in which he made one of the most memorable plays ever with ‘The Catch’ in the deep center field of the Polo Grounds.  All told, Willie was a two-time MVP, a 24-time All-Star, a 12-time Gold Glover, a selection as one of the game’s Greatest Living Players in 2015, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom later that year.

“And yet his incredible achievements and statistics do not begin to describe the awe that came with watching Willie Mays dominate the game in every way imaginable.  We will never forget this true Giant on and off the field.  On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Willie’s family, his friends across our game, Giants fans everywhere, and his countless admirers across the world.

“Thursday’s game at historic Rickwood Field was designed to be a celebration of Willie Mays and his peers.  With sadness in our hearts, it will now also serve as a national remembrance of an American who will forever remain on the short list of the most impactful individuals our great game has ever known.”

Born and raised in Westfield, Alabama, Mays began his baseball career with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues while still in high school in 1948. He signed with the New York Giants in 1950 and began his decorated big-league career in 1951. That season he was named NL Rookie of the Year after hitting .274 with 20 home runs in 121 games as a 20-year-old.

Mays was drafted by the Army to serve in the Korean War following the 1951 season and he played only 34 games in 1952 before reporting. He missed the rest of ’52 and all of 1953 while serving. When he returned in 1954, Mays earned the first of two NL MVP awards and the first of 24 All-Star Game selections. He led the league with a .345 average that season.

From 1954-71, Mays put together one of the greatest careers in baseball history. He hit .307/.387/.572 and averaged 35 home runs and 18 stolen bases per season those years. Mays was named NL MVP in 1954 and 1965 and won 12 Gold Gloves, then the record for an outfielder. He was the All-Star Game MVP in 1963 and 1968.

Mays helped the Giants, who moved from New York to San Francisco in 1958, defeat Cleveland in the 1954 World Series. In the eighth inning of Game 1, Mays made one of the most iconic catches in baseball history, an over-the-shoulder snag to take extra bases away from Vic Werts. Here’s the play:

It was 483 feet to dead center field at the Polo Grounds and Mays made that catch only a few steps shy of the wall. The score was tied 2-2 at the time and Cleveland had runners at first and second with no outs. If Mays doesn’t make the catch, at least one run scores and likely two. It was a game-saver. The Giants eventually won the game 5-2 in 10 innings.

At age 41, Mays was traded to the New York Mets for righty Charlie Williams and $50,000 on May 11, 1972. Mays spend the rest of 1972 as well as 1973 with the Mets to wrap up his career. 

“Willie Mays was one of the greatest to ever play the game,” Mets owner Steve Cohen said in a joint statement with his wife, Alex. “Willie ended his Hall of Fame career in Queens and was a key piece to the 1973 NL championship team. Mays played with a style and grace like no one else. Alex and I were thrilled to honor a previous promise from Joan Payson to retire his iconic #24 as a member of the Mets in 2022. On behalf of our entire organization, we send our thoughts and prayers to Willie’s family and friends.”

Mays retired as a career .301/.384/.557 hitter and is near the top of so many all-time leaderboards. Here are some of the most notable:

  • 3,292 hits (13th all-time)
  • 600 home runs (6th all-time)
  • 1,909 (12th all-time)
  • 6,080 total bases (4th all-time)
  • 2,068 runs scored (7th all-time)
  • 156.2 WAR (5th all-time)

Mays was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility. He received 94.7% of the vote, the most ever for a player who was on the ballot for the first time.