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Willie Mays, Baseball’s “Say Hey Kid,” Is Dead at Age 93


Willie Mays, the “Say Hey Kid”—who was considered by many to have been the greatest centerfielder, if not the greatest all-around ballplayer of all time—has died at age 93.

Mays, who broke into the baseball in 1948 with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro League, spent a storied 21 major league seasons with the New York and San Francisco Giants, finishing his career as a New York Met. He remains the only player in the history of the majors to have racked up at least 3,000 hits, a .300 average, 300 home runs, and 300 stolen bases. He ultimately hit 660 homers, placing him in the sixth slot on the all-time list.

Mays earned 12 Gold Glove Awards, was a two-time National League MVP (in 1954 and 1965), and a 24-time All-Star. Ted Williams once remarked, only half-jokingly, “They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays.”

Mays was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility, five years after his retirement. While his was not a unanimous induction, his percentage of ballots cast—94.6—was the highest since the first year of voting, in 1936, when Ty Cobb, according to The New York Times, was enshrined with 98.2 percent. (Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner garnered 95.1 percent apiece.) On Aug. 27, 2022, Mays became one of only 11 players whose number–24–was retired by the two big-league teams he played for.

Mays was the quintessential five-tool player. Of his dominance in the game, legendary Negro Leaguer Buck O’Neil, himself a Hall of Fame inductee, called Mays “the best Major League ballplayer I ever saw. Ted Williams beat you with the bat. Joe DiMaggio beat you with the bat, his glove, and his arm. But Willie Mays could beat you with the bat, his glove, his arm, and with the running. He could beat you any way that’s possible.” The legendary Reggie Jackson once observed, of Mays, “You used to think, if the score was 5-0, he’d hit a five-run homer.”

Mays was a hit off-the-field as well, his prowess the stuff of the popular 1954 recording by the Treniers, “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)”:

He runs the bases like a choo-choo train
Swings around second like an aeroplane
His cap flies off when he passes third
And he heads home like an eagle bird.

That same year, as Sports Illustrated would later recount, NBC premiered a new program called The Tonight Show: “The network needed a big guest star for the debut, and none shone brighter in the fall of ’54 than Willie Mays, who joined the broadcast live, from his home in Harlem, the image electronically conveyed downtown to the Rockefeller Center studio via expensive camera and cable connections. Mays, in pajamas, was serenaded at his apartment window by the singer Steve Lawrence, and then chatted via telephone, on split-screen, with the host.”

In time, Mays achieved such cultural cachet that celebrities would often ask him for his autograph. In 1966, he even landed a cameo on the TV series Bewitched, in which he spoofed his own preternatural abilities while playing the warlock friend of a modern-day witch named Samantha. (“Is he….” her husband Darrin stammers. “The way he hits home runs, what else?” she responds.)

Willie Howard Mays, Jr. was born May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama. It was his father, Willie Sr.—a steelworker and railroad porter—who introduced him to baseball, Mays stated in his 1988 autobiography, Say Hey: “My dad was determined that if I wanted to, I would become a baseball player and not end up in the steel mills the way he did.”

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