Willie Howard Mays, Jr. (born May 6, 1931) is a retired American professional baseball player who played the majority of his major league career with the New York and San Francisco Giants before finishing with the New York Mets. Nicknamed The Say Hey Kid, Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility.
The Polo Grounds in New York was nearly 500 feet to straight away center, with cavernous power alleys in left and right center.With his knowledge and speed, Mays turned triples and inside-the-park home runs into outs.
The most famous out came in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series against the Cleveland Indians.Ever since, that play has been known as “The Catch.”With runners on first and second, Vic Wertz hit a tremendous line drive to straightaway center.Mays, who always played shallow, turned his back to home plate and caught the ball over his shoulder, running full tilt, 490-plus feet from home plate.
Conflict with Jackie Robinson
In 1968.Jackie Robinson publicly called Mays a “do nothing Negro.”This one time, Mays held a news conference to answer public criticism.
He began by saying he could not have done what Robinson did as the first black player in the Majors.“I really admire the guy,” Mays said. Then, he said he promoted understanding his own way, talking to kids. "Picketing and making speeches are not in my nature.In my heart, I believe my way is as important as Robinson’s."
"Baseball is a game, yes. It is also a business. But what it most truly is, is disguised combat. For all its gentility, its almost leisurely pace, baseball is violence under wraps." - Willie Mays
Mays was the youngest black player to reach the major leagues, and his ascension in 1951 coincided with other powerful social and economic forces. Television, for one, was emerging as a transformative medium in sports. Fans across the country could now watch baseball in real time, the grainy black-and-white images turning an anonymous player into a national hero.
Mays got off to a rocky start in the majors, going hitless in his first 12 times at bat. Other managers might have panicked and sent the rookie back to the minors, but the Giants' Leo Durocher had faith in his young centerfielder, and Mays broke his hitless streak with a home run blasted over the left field roof.
Not only did Mays play ball constantly, he would sit in the dugout with his father's Industrial League teammates and listen to baseball strategy and technique, absorbing the game's finer points and learning to be at his ease in a competitive environment. By the age of thirteen, he was playing on a semi-professional team called the Gray Sox.
Just like playing baseball, being a philanthropist came naturally to Mays, who often made personal visits to assist ailing or underprivileged children by providing tuition, paying for schoolbooks or by just giving them a pair of shoes. Willie believes that he owes a debt of gratitude to the teachers, coaches, mentors and friends who took the time to help him. He recognizes what it means to a kid when someone extends a helping hand. To repay this debt, he has tried to reciprocate at every opportunity. Sometimes that meant offering an encouraging word, while at other times it meant providing financial assistance. As he has said many times, “No one does it alone.”
Mays's 7095 putouts are the all-time record for an outfielder, but Mays excelled as a hitter as well. His career batting average was .302. For eight years running, he drove in more than 100 runs a year, and his 660 home runs put him in third place for the all-time home run record. He won the Gold Glove Award 12 times. He was voted Most Valuable Player in the National League in both 1954 and 1965.
Willie Howard Mays Jr. was born in Westfield, Jefferson County, on May 6, 1931, and raised in nearby Fairfield, a steel-mill town on the outskirts of Birmingham, the offspring of two athletic stars. His father, Willie "Cat" Mays Sr., had been a Negro League player, and his mother Annie had been a champion sprinter in high school. From the time Mays was a toddler, he was an athletic prodigy. Known as "Buck," by family and friends, Mays exhibited athletic brilliance when he was 10, as a bat boy who played first base in the final two innings of sandlot games in the Birmingham Industrial League for the Fairfield Stars.
Mays also had his disappointments. His first marriage ended badly, with a painful public divorce and and an adopted son with whom he is no longer close. Financial troubles, caused mostly by overspending, dogged him through his playing days.