**FILE** Willie Mays (Michael Marconi, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)
**FILE** Willie Mays (Michael Marconi, CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons)

Willie Mays, the Hall of Fame baseball legend often hailed as the greatest player in the game’s history, died Tuesday. He was 93.

The death of Mays, affectionately known as the “Say Hey Kid,” was announced by his family and the San Francisco Giants, for whom he played for the majority of his storied MLB career.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” said Mays’ son, Michael Mays. “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.”

The news evoked emotional tributes from the baseball community as word of his death spread.

“He was the greatest I had ever seen on the field,” Keith Hernandez, a former MLB star and current color commentator for the New York Mets on SportsNet New York, said tearfully during Tuesday’s Mets-Rangers game.

“Willie would play a shallow center field, making it all the more amazing how he’d catch fly balls against the wall,” added Mets broadcaster Gary Cohen. “He was the greatest ever to play.”

Just a day prior, it was announced that Mays would not attend a special game honoring him and the Negro Leagues. Scheduled for Thursday, June 20, at Rickwood Field, the game features the San Francisco Giants and the St. Louis Cardinals. Mays, who began his career with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues, had shared his plans to enjoy the event from home.

“I’m not able to get to Birmingham this year but will follow the game back here in the Bay Area,” he told the San Francisco Chronicle earlier in the week. “My heart will be with all of you who are honoring the Negro League ballplayers, who should always be remembered, including all my teammates on the Black Barons.”

Mays’ career spanned from 1951 to 1972 with the Giants, where he won a World Series in 1954, was a 24-time All-Star, and was a two-time National League MVP. Among many other accomplishments, his 660 home runs and 12 Gold Gloves highlight his legendary status.

The home run total came despite having taken a two-year hiatus from baseball to serve in the military and having played in three of the toughest stadiums in which to hit home runs — The Polo Grounds, Candlestick Park, and Shea Stadium.

Major League Baseball, the city of Birmingham, and the Friends of Rickwood nonprofit group have collaborated to renovate Rickwood Field, the oldest professional ballpark in the United States, to honor Mays and the Negro Leagues. Despite his absence, Mays will be celebrated throughout the week’s festivities.

Mays was not only a baseball legend but also a cherished figure in San Francisco. His 9-foot bronze statue stands proudly at Oracle Park’s 24 Willie Mays Plaza. He was eager to see MLB’s tribute at Rickwood Field, where he began his career.

Known for his exceptional five-tool abilities — hitting, power hitting, fielding, throwing and baserunning — Mays also possessed an unmatched strategic acumen. In 2015, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama, who acknowledged Mays’ impact on sports and society. “It’s because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for president,” Obama remarked.

Mays was dedicated to helping others throughout his life, notably through his Say Hey Foundation, which supports underprivileged youth.

“I do what I can for people, man,” Mays said in a 2021 interview. “When the kids ask me for something, I give it to them. Let them have it because they’re going to be here after I’m gone, and I want the kids to enjoy what they can enjoy.”

Mays’ legacy is marked by a career batting average of .302, 3,283 hits, and numerous accolades. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, cementing his place as one of the sport’s all-time greats.

Stacy M. Brown is a senior writer for The Washington Informer and the senior national correspondent for the Black Press of America. Stacy has more than 25 years of journalism experience and has authored...

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