October 31, 2012; San Francisco, CA, USA; San Francisco Giants former center fielder Willie Mays waves to the crowd while riding in a car during the World Series victory parade at Market Street. The Giants defeated the Detroit Tigers in a four-game sweep to win the 2012 World Series. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Willie Mays: Remembering a Legend

The baseball world continues to mourn the loss of a legend, Willie Mays, who passed away Tuesday at the age of 93. Let’s take a look back at the life and career of the Say Hey Kid, and the legacy he left for America’s National Pastime.

The Birth of a Legendary Career

Willie Mays began his professional career not in Major League Baseball, but in the Negro Leagues. At the age of 17 in 1948, Mays signed to play for the Birmingham Black Barons. However, after appearing in just 13 games, Mays didn’t play professional ball until 1951. Still young, just 20 years old, Mays became the center fielder for the then New York Giants.

He burst onto the scene, hitting .274 and launching 20 homers in just 121 games. That may not seem like a lot for today’s standards, but it was good enough for fourteenth in the National League across the whole season. This was enough to earn Willie the NL Rookie of the Year for 1951. Mays played 34 games the next season before being drafted to the US Army to serve in the Korean War. This ended his 1952 season and would end up costing him the entirety of 1953. But not even war could stop the great Willie Mays, who came back in 1954 with a vengeance.

An Unmatched Career

At age 23, the year he returned from military service, Willie Mays was named an All-Star. He proceeded to bat .345, hit 45 home runs, drive in 110 runs, and lead the league in triples. Mays won the NL MVP, and then led the Giants to the World Series. The season Mays put together was simply ungodly and cemented the young center fielder as the future of the sport.

From that season on, for the now San Fransisco Giants, Willie Mays wouldn’t miss an All-Star game. And due to a few-season stretch in which MLB played two All-Star games per season, he finished a 22-year career with 24 All-Star appearances. That record still stands (shared with Stan Musial), though the number would likely be even higher had he not served his country.

Mays was the definition of a five-tool player. He provided the Giants with everything they could need. Want power? He led the majors in home runs four times en route to 660 in his career. For many, this makes him the home run king, as this is the highest count for a post-integration, non-steroid user. Want average? Mays finished his career with a batting average above .300. A good eye? At age 40, he led the majors with 112 walks. And this is all at the plate.

Mays is one of, if not the, greatest defensive outfielders of all time. He won 12 straight Gold Glove Awards from 1957 (when the award was created) to 1968 at age 37. Mays also boasts perhaps the most recognizable defensive play of all time, simply known as “The Catch”, an over the shoulder grab in the Polo Grounds center field to save Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.

A Legend

The Say Hey Kid retired from baseball at the age of 42 and entered the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. Mays is remembered for his accomplishments on the field, what he has given to baseball, and for his greatness as a person after his career ended. And it is difficult to name him anything other than what he was: an immortal, and the greatest to ever play the game.


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