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US baseball legend Willie Mays dies

June 19, 2024

Hall of Famer Willie Mays has died at the age of 93, his old club, the San Francisco Giants said. Seen as one of the best of all time, he's a 24-time All Star and two-time MVP, but could only win one World Series.

Jim Bernardini, owner of Lefty's Sports Cards, holds a baseball card of former San Francisco Giants baseball player Willie Mays while interviewed at his store, which closed for COVID-19 concerns, in Burlingame, Calif., Saturday, April 25, 2020.
Willie Mays was among the top names in the game from the early 50s to the early 70s Image: Jeff Chiu/AP Photo/picture alliance

Willie Mays, the center fielder and home run and batting average king for the San Franciso Giants across more than two decades, died on Tuesday, the US baseball team announced. 

"It is with great sadness that we announce that San Francisco Giants Legend and Hall of Famer Willie Mays passed away peacefully this afternoon at the age of 93," the Giants said in a joint statement issued with the player's son, Michael. 

"My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones," Michael Mays said in the statement. "I want to thank you all from the bottom of my broken heart for the unwavering love you have shown him over the years. You have been his life's blood."

Wildfire smoke darkens the sky over a statue of former baseball player Willie Mays outside Oracle Park before a baseball game between the San Francisco Giants and the Seattle Mariners on Wednesday, Sept. 9, 2020, in San Francisco.
Mays' likeness stands guard outside the Giants' Oracle Park stadiumImage: Tony Avelar/AP Photo/picture alliance

20 years at the top as times were changing fast in US

Mays is considered by many to be among the all-time greats, a proficient outfielder who hit with power and efficiency across 20 years.

Two years ago, the ESPN sports network put him second behind only Babe Ruth in its most recent all-time leaderboard.

He joined professional Major League Baseball in 1951 after being drafted by the Giants, still based in New York at that time. He had played for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League in Alabama before joining the MLB.

A contemporary of Hank Aaron, who died in 2021, he was also among the early generations of widely feted professional Black athletes in the US. 

His death came two days before a game between the Giants and the Cardinals that was to honor Negro Leagues at Rickworth Field in Alabama.

"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,"  MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said. 

"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." 

A leader in almost all measured metrics, from homers to stolen bases

Mays was named Rookie of the Year in his first season and would continue to notch eye-popping statistics for decades thereafter.

President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Willie Mays during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Washington.
Mays received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015Image: Evan Vucci/AP Photo/picture alliance

He claimed the league's Most Valuable Player award in 1954, also the year when he led the Giants to his only World Series victory.

That World Series included an over-the-shoulder catch as center fielder Mays retreated to snare a long drive that's still one of the sport's most-feted defensive plays.

Mays led the league in statistics including batting average, home runs (four times between 1955 and 1965) and stolen bases. He's a 12-time Golden Glove defender and played in 24 All-Star games. His longevity was exemplified when he was named MVP in 1965, more than a decade after he first claimed the award.

His professional career batting average is higher than 30% or 0.300 — so that's 30 hits in every 100 at bats for those who don't follow baseball — a figure that's still perceived as a hallmark of quality for a player in an individual season, let alone across an entire career.

But he was arguably best known for his attitude and demeanor when playing, a bubbling cauldron of energy and enthusiasm with just the right sense of showmanship added to the cocktail. 

"When I played ball, I tried to make sure everybody enjoyed what I was doing," Mays told public broadcaster NPR in 2010. "I made the clubhouse guy fit me a cap that when I ran, the wind gets up in the bottom and it flies right off. People love that kind of stuff."

msh/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)