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Legendary Outfielder Willie Mays, Known As ‘Say Hey Kid,’ Passes Away At 93

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Willie Mays, whose unmatched collection of skills made him the greatest center fielder who ever lived, died Tuesday afternoon in the Bay Area. He was 93 years old.

The “Say Hey Kid” left an indelible mark on the sport, with his name a constant throughout baseball’s hallowed record book and his defensive prowess — epitomized by “The Catch” in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series — second to none.

In a career spanning over 20 years (1951-73) — most of them with his beloved Giants — Mays made 24 All-Star teams, won two National League MVP awards, and earned 12 Gold Gloves. He ranks sixth all-time in home runs (660), seventh in runs scored (2,068), 10th in RBIs (1,909), and 12th in hits (3,293).

Fellow Giants legend Barry Bonds, who is Mays’ godson and sits just five spots above him on the all-time home run leaderboard, said Mays “helped shape me to be who I am today” in a message shared on social media.

Mays’ death comes two days before the Giants are set to play the St. Louis Cardinals at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama, in a game honoring Mays and the Negro Leagues as a whole. It was announced Monday that Mays would not be able to attend.

Born on May 6, 1931, in Alabama, Mays began his professional career at age 17 in 1948 with the Birmingham Black Barons, helping the team to the Negro League World Series that season.

MLB has been working with the city of Birmingham and Friends of Rickwood nonprofit group to renovate the 10,800-seat ballpark, which at 114 years old is the oldest professional ballpark in the United States.

The Giants were playing the Cubs in Chicago on Tuesday night; the Wrigley Field crowd of 36,292 stood in a salute to Mays during a moment of silence when his death was announced on the left-field video board in the sixth inning.

The 62-year-old Melvin, from Palo Alto, California, said he grew up watching Mays play at Candlestick Park.

Mays excelled in baseball, football, and basketball in high school. But his love of baseball trumped all sports. Since he was still in school while playing for the Black Barons, he played with the club only on weekends; he traveled with Birmingham when school was out.

The New York Giants caught wind of Mays and purchased his contract from Birmingham in 1950. Mays had no trouble acclimating, batting .353 in 81 games with Trenton that season. In 1951, Mays broke out with the Triple-A Minneapolis Millers, batting .477 in 35 games before the Giants recalled him in May.

At age 20, Mays was the 10th Black player in major league history. After going hitless in his first three games, Mays’ first career hit with the Giants was a home run off Hall of Famer Warren Spahn in the first inning of the Giants’ 4-1 loss to the Braves on May 28, 1951. Mays was also on deck when the Giants’ Bobby Thomson hit his NL-pennant-winning home run against the Dodgers on Oct. 3, 1951, famously known as “The Shot Heard ‘Round the World.”

The Korean War interrupted Mays’ career in 1952. He played in 34 games for the Giants (batting .236) before he was drafted by the U.S. Army. Mays was assigned to Fort Eustis in Virginia, and he kept his skills sharp by playing games regularly. Mays also missed the entire 1953 season because of military service; he did not return to the Giants until the spring of 1954.

But the layoff from professional baseball did not affect him. Mays won the first of his two career NL MVP awards that season, leading the league in batting at .345 and hitting 41 home runs to go along with 110 RBIs. Mays won his other NL MVP in 1965.

During Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against Cleveland at the Polo Grounds, Mays made one of the most famous plays in baseball history. With the score tied at 2 and two runners on base, Cleveland’s Vic Wertz hit a 2-1 pitch to deep center in the top of the eighth inning.

Mays sprinted toward the wall with his back to the plate, made a basket catch while on the run, pivoted, and fired the ball into the infield. Mays’ catch and quick relay throw prevented both runners from scoring; the Giants won the game 5-2 in 10 innings.

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