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Willie Mays, one of the greatest baseball players of all time, dies aged 93

Willie Mays, considered one of the best players in the history of baseball and called the ‘Say Hey Kid’, has died at the age of 93.

His son Michael Mays confirmed the legendary centre fielder had passed away on Tuesday evening in a statement through the San Francisco Giants.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” he said.

“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.”

Chairman of the Giants Greg Johnson also said: “He had a profound influence not only on the game of baseball, but on the fabric of America.

“He was an inspiration and a hero who will be forever remembered and deeply missed.”

Fans hold a moment of silence for Willie Mays during a game between the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs in Chicago. Pic: AP
Image:
Fans hold a moment of silence for Willie Mays during a game between the San Francisco Giants and the Chicago Cubs in Chicago. Pic: AP

Major League Baseball (MLB) also paid tribute and said they were “heartbroken” after losing “one of the most exciting all-around players in the history of our sport”.

Born in 1931 and making his professional debut in 1948, Mays was a 24-time All-Star who spent parts of 21 seasons with the Giants, both when they were in New York and San Francisco.

Throughout his career, he had a batting average of .301, hit 660 home runs, totalled 3,293 hits, scored 2,068 runs and won 12 Gold Gloves.

Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first year of eligibility in 1979, with nearly 95% of all ballots cast for him.

‘The Catch’

His most famous moment came during game one of the 1954 World Series, when the Cleveland Indians’ Vic Wertz hit a ball to the deep centre, while a pair of runners were on base in a tie-breaker game.

With his back turned away from the infield, Mays sprinted toward the centre field wall at the Polo Grounds and made an over-the-shoulder basket catch.

'The Catch' during Game 1 of the 1954 baseball World Series. Pic: AP
Image:
‘The Catch’ during Game 1 of the 1954 baseball World Series. Pic: AP

The moment – known simply as “The Catch” – proved decisive and helped the Giants win 5-2 across ten innings. The team eventually won the world series, the only time Mays did so.

In 2010, Mays told biographer James S Hirsch: “Soon as it got hit, I knew I’d catch the ball.

“All the time I’m running back, I’m thinking, ‘Willie, you’ve got to get this ball back to the infield’.”

In 2017, the World Series Most Valuable Player award was named after Mays, despite him only winning the post-season tournament once.

Willie Mays with a young John F. Kennedy Jr on 3 June 1972. Pic: AP
Image:
Willie Mays with a young John F. Kennedy Jr on 3 June 1972. Pic: AP

History in Negro leagues

Prior to his time in the majors, Mays spent a year with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League.

The league was segregated from other baseball organisations as African Americans were excluded by the colour line – a policy where black baseball players were banned from the MLB and its affiliated Minor Leagues.

It was an unofficial but pervasive policy until 1945 when Jackie Robinson signed for the Brooklyn Dodgers, but it took until the 1960’s for African American players to be fully integrated across the sport.

Earlier this month, the MLB finally recognised the segregated leagues in their statistics. A game in Mays’ and the leagues’ honour is set to be held on Thursday.

Mays had told the San Francisco Chronicle he would not be able to get to Birmingham for the game, but said: “My heart will be with all of you who are honouring the Negro League ballplayers, who should always be remembered, including all my teammates on the Black Barons.”

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Speaking from the stadium, MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said: “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… Willie inspired generations of players and fans as the game grew and truly earned its place as our National Pastime.

“We will never forget this true Giant on and off the field.”

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