The Legacy of Willie Mays: A Baseball Legend Remembered

The Legacy of Willie Mays: A Baseball Legend Remembered

Willie Mays was power on offense and intelligence on defense. Willie Mays was legs and head. Willie Mays was also heart, the heart of him was someone who wandered the streets of Harlem and played baseball with children. They nicknamed him Say Hey Kid for this reason, he who had played 22 seasons in the Major Leagues and one in the Negro Leagues. His exuberance and enthusiasm have made him an ambassador for his sport for more than sixty years. There are many who believe that he deserves a place among the top two-three of all time in American baseball.

Leo Durocher, Mays’ former manager and Hall of Fame inductee, wrote in his autobiography, Nice Guys Finish Last, that even if someone came in and hit for a .450 average, even if he stole 100 bases, even if he had a miracle in the field every day, he would look him straight in the eye and tell him that Willie was better.

Now gone at age 93, commissioner Rob Manfred in a statement says Willie Mays took his all-around brilliance from the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League to the historic Giants franchise, from one coast to the other of New York and San Francisco, recognizing his ability to inspire generations of players and fans, as the game grew, evolved, “truly earned its place as our national pastime.”


Mays had begun his professional baseball career at age 17, appearing in 13 games for the Birmingham Black Barons, just minutes from his hometown of Fairfield, Alabama. Jackie Robinson had just broken down the barrier of racial segregation in MLB, just a year earlier, and although Mays was still struggling in high school, the path to becoming a professional in baseball was clear.

When he retired twenty-five years later, with 21 of 22 seasons between the New York and San Francisco Giants, he had amassed 660 home runs, the third most ever at the time of his retirement. [1973], since surpassed by only three other players. He won 12 Gold Glove Defensive Player Awards, the most ever for a winger, and the award didn’t exist until six years after his debut. He has the All-Star Games record of 24, a feat that once prompted outfielder Ted Williams to say the event was invented for Willie Mays.

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As the Wall Street Journal recalls, Mays managed to accomplish all this despite missing much of 1952 and all of 1953 serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He had already won the Rookie of the Year Award in 1951, the first of his two National League MVP awards in 1954, when he led the Giants to the World Series title, the only one he won in his career.

He was the only child of Willie “Cat” Mays, a semipro baseball player, and Annie Satterwhite, a track and basketball star at his high school. But Mays was briefly pushed out of baseball when he took a job at an Atlantic City casino while simultaneously coaching part-time in spring camps. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn banned him from the MLB, fearing contagion, fearing that a member was working with gamblers around. He was reinstated by Peter Ueberroth in 1985. Six years earlier, Mays had been interviewed by Newsweek, summing up in one sentence what many believed: “I think I was the best baseball player I ever saw.”


Grant Brisbee in The Athletic adds that it is “impossible to overestimate Mays’s cultural legacy, his imprint on American life,” because he was the super-superstar who came after Babe Ruth, “in a world that was entirely American, like Louis Armstrong with jazz or Edgar Allen Poe with stories. Jackie Robinson and Larry Doby got a disproportionate amount of insults and attention when they blazed the trail, but it allowed Mays to become the face of a sport that was the face of a country. Even those born after the advent of color TV, even those born after the Internet, have probably seen at least once an image or video of Mays playing stickball with kids in Harlem.”

Thus The Athletic recalls that Mays ended up in a Peanuts strip, when Charlie Brown lost a spelling contest because he was asked to write the word maze, and instead of maze he thought of Mays.

Willie Mays is also the only reason why there is a historic television special, A Charlie Brown Christmas with the Vince Guaraldi soundtrack. Charles Schulz wasn’t at all interested in a documentary about his life as a cartoonist, but he learned that the documentary maker was the same as a work about Mays and said, “Well, maybe then we should at least meet. If Willie trusted her to tell the story of her life, maybe I can too.”


2024-06-19 17:42:08
#death #Mays #Louis #Armstrong #baseball


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