Willie Mays is an American former professional baseball player, who played centerfield for the New York/San Francisco Giants and New York Mets during his career. He was born William Howard Mays in Westfield, Alabama on May 6, 1931. At 16 years old he joined the Birmingham Barons in the Negro American League until the New York Giants purchased his playing contract in 1950. During his rookie season, Mays earned NL Rookie of the Year. His playing years were broken up in 1952 and 1953 when he was drafted to serve in the US Army during the Korean War.
Mays played 21 seasons with the Giants organization and his final two with the New York Mets, hitting over .300 ten times and finished his career with 3,283 hits. In 1979, Willie Mays was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame and is lauded as one of the best baseball players of all time and one of the only true five-tool players. After retiring, Mays continued to stay involved with the Giants organization as a special assistant.
When Willie Mays was 16, he started playing for the Brigmingham Barons in the Negro American League and continued in the Negro Leagues until the New York Giants picked up his contract once he was over 18. He was among the first group of players to benefit from Jackie Robinson breaking the color line in baseball, along with Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, and Ernie Banks.
Mays was an incredible player offensively but one of the most notable moments of his career was a defensive play. What is known as "The Catch" happened against the Cleveland Indians in the 1954 World Series. Mays made an over-the-shoulder catch on a line drive hit 450 feet on the warning track of the Polo Grounds while in mid-sprint, then turned and threw the runner at second out. The New York Giants went on to sweep the Cleveland Indians to win the 1954 World Series. He would help the Giants reach the World Series in 1962 and the New York Mets reach in 1973, losing both championships.
After his rookie season, Mays was named the 1951 NL Rookie of the Year. In 1954 and 1965 he was voted National League MVP and won 12 Gold Glove Awards at Center Field. He was also a 24-time All-Star. Mays led 4 times in home runs, four times in stolen bases, five times in slugging percentage, three times in total bases, and three times in triples.
He was also the 1954 NL batting champion and the National League home run leader in 1955, 1962, 1964, and 1965. From 1956-59, Mays was the leader in stolen bases in the National League for four consecutive seasons.
When he retired, Mays was third all-time in homeruns (currently at 6th), is seventh in runs scored, and 12th in RBIs and hits. The San Francisco Giants retired Mays' number in 1972 and he was later inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.
Willie Mays was also the recipient of the 1971 Roberto Clemente Award. Each club nominates one player and the award is given to one of the 30 nominees with on-field excellence and community involvement.
In 2000, a 23-ton bronze statue of Willie Mays was unveiled outside of Oracle Park (then Pacific Bell Park)in its first season. The ballpark's address is also 24 Willie Mays Plaza, in honor of the legendary ballplayer. Mays has received various honorary degrees, including from Yale and Dartmouth. In 2007, Mays was inducted into the California Sports Hall of Fame and in 2015 he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in the United States, by President Barack Obama.
Willie Mays was born in Westfield, Alabama on May 6, 1931. He eventually moved to Fairfield, Alabama. His father was a semi-pro baseball player in the Birmingham Industrial League.
Mays was married twice and adopted a son named Michael in 1959 with his first wife. He formed the Say Hey Foundation in 1972 to help underprivileged children through education and community support.
Mays accepted a PR job with an Atlantic City Casino in 1979 and was banned from baseball due to commissioner Bowie Kuhn's fear of gambling taking hold within the sport. In 1985, the new commissioner, Peter Ueberroth reinstated Mays and in 1986 he began working as special assistant to the Giants organization, which became a lifetime appointment in 1993.
Although Willie Mays benefited from Robinson breaking the color line in baseball, he often faced heavy prejudice. Having started out in the Negro Leagues, Mays was very aware of the men he played with who missed out on playing in the major leagues simply because of segregation.
The only World Series Mays won was in 1954 against the Cleveland Indians in his MVP season and first season back from military service. That series is where he made The Catch, one of the most infamous baseball plays of all time.
He played in a total of four World Series championships: 1951 with the Brooklyn Giants where they lost to the New York Yankees, 1954 with the Brooklyn Giants winning over Cleveland, 1962 with the San Francisco Giants where they lost to the Yankees, and 1973 with the New York Mets where they lost to the Oakland Athletics.
After having his contract picked up from the Negro Leagues by the New York Giants, based in Harlem, he debuted for them in 1951 and played for the New York Giants until their move to San Francisco in 1957. From 1957 until 1972, Willie Mays played for the San Francisco Giants. In May of 1972, Mays was traded to the New York Mets, where he spent the final two seasons of his career before retiring after the 1973 baseball season.
In 1979, Mays accepted a job at Bally's Atlantic City Casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Although he worked merely as a greeter and was not allowed to place bets there, commissioner Bowie Kuhn expressed concern about betting infiltrating the sport and banned Mays from the sport. In 1985, after commissioner Peter Ueberroth took over for Kuhn less than a year earlier, Mays was reinstated.
Mays appeared in the All-Star game a record number of 24 times in 22 seasons as there was a brief point where the All-Star Game was played twice in a season. He has 23 hits and 20 runs in the All-Star Game, which are both records that currently remain unbroken. From his return in 1954 until his final season in 1973, he played in every All-Star Game that was held. In the record books, Mays leads with 24 games played, 82 plate appearances, 75 at-bats, 20 runs, 23 hits, 40 total bases, 3 triples, 6 stolen bases, and 15 singles all in All-Star Games.
Hall of Famer Ted Williams is commonly quoted as saying that the All-Star Game was invented for Willie Mays.