Baseball Icon Willie Mays, One Of The Game’s Most Electrifying And Complete Players, Has Died At 93

Willie Mays, seen here as a member of the New York Giants in 1954, had 660 career home runs in 23 major league seasons — then the second most behind Babe Ruth, has died. (Bettmann/Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

By Wayne Sterling and Kevin Dotson, CNN

(CNN) — Willie Mays, the dynamic baseball Hall of Famer who shined in all facets of the game and made a dramatic catch in the 1954 World Series, died Tuesday at the age of 93, the San Francisco Giants announced.

Mays passed away “peacefully and among loved ones,” his son, Michael Mays, said in a release from the Giants, the Major League Baseball franchise with which Mays was most associated.

“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,” Michael Mays said.

Known as “The Say Hey Kid” for the way he enthusiastically greeted others, Mays was a five-tool player with the rare ability to hit for power and for average while also excelling at running, throwing and fielding. In 23 major league seasons, mostly with the New York Giants and the San Francisco Giants, he finished with 660 career home runs – then the second most behind legend Babe Ruth.

Mays led the National League in home runs and steals in four seasons and in slugging five times. He hit over .300 ten times and had a career average of .301.

The speedy center fielder also was as dominant in the field as he was at the plate, winning 12 Gold Gloves.

“We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Hall of Famer Willie Mays, one of the most exciting all-around players in the history of our sport” Major League Baseball said on X.

Mays “inspired generations of players and fans as the game grew and truly earned its place as our national pastime,” MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred said in a release Tuesday.

“And yet his incredible achievements and statistics do not begin to describe the awe that came with watching Willie Mays dominate the game in every way imaginable. We will never forget this true Giant on and off the field,” Manfred said.

In early June, after Major League Baseball integrated Negro League statistics into its record books and added 10 hits to Mays’ career totals, he told CNN that “it must be some kind of record for a 93-year-old.”

The hits came in 1948, when he was teenager with the Negro American League’s Birmingham Black Barons.

“I was still in high school,” Mays recalled. “Our school did not have a baseball team. I played football and basketball, but I loved baseball. So my dad let me to play … but ONLY if I stayed in school. He wanted me to graduate. I played with the team on weekends until school was out for the summer.”

“I thought that was IT; that was the top of the world. Man, I was so proud to play with those guys,” he said. Mays called his statistical accomplishment at age 93 “amazing.”

Mays had just said he couldn’t attend special game set for Thursday

Mays’ death came just one day after he told the San Francisco Chronicle that he wouldn’t be able to attend a major event planned for later this week: Major League Baseball is scheduled to commemorate Juneteenth and celebrate the Negro Leagues with a game Thursday at Rickwood Field, in Birmingham, Alabama, where the Black Barons played.

MLB had long planned to honor Mays at the game, though he told the Chronicle on Monday that he couldn’t make it to Birmingham and instead would watch his San Francisco Giants play the St. Louis Cardinals on TV.

“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 told the newspaper.

In the wake of Mays’ death, Thursday’s game will also serve as a national remembrance “of an American who will forever remain on the short list of the most impactful individuals our great game has ever known,” Manfred said Tuesday.

‘The Catch’

Mays was known in part for one of baseball’s most memorable catches – in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians at Polo Grounds in New York.

With runners on first and second in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game, Indians batter Vic Wertz hit a 425-foot drive to deep center field.

Mays turned and sprinted back towards the wall, somehow catching the ball over his shoulder with his back to the plate. He then fired it back to the infield, preventing the runners from scoring.

In those days, players regularly scored from second base after tagging up at that ballpark. The catch became the defining play of Mays’ career and one of the most famous plays in baseball history.

New York won the game 5-2 in 10 innings and would go on to sweep the Indians to capture the World Series.

That capped an impressive season for Mays as he won his first of two National League Most Valuable Player awards. The other came in 1965.

In 1954, Mays led the league with a .345 batting average and 12 triples and smashed 41 homers while driving in 110 runs.

But what’s perhaps most extraordinary about that 1954 season was prior to it, he did not play baseball. Mays spent most of 1952 and all of 1953 in the Army.

A long, brilliant career

Mays made his Major League debut for the Giants in 1951 at the age of 20 after playing in the Negro Leagues.

He wasted no time in capturing accolades.

He won the Rookie of the Year award and helped New York rally from a 13-game deficit to tie the Brooklyn Dodgers at the end of regular season.

In 1958, baseball’s landscape changed dramatically as the Giants moved west to San Francisco.

It was a new home but the same outstanding level of play from Mays, who notched a career-high .347 batting average in his first season out west.

Four years later, Mays’ 49 homers and 141 runs batted in (RBI) helped the Giants return to the World Series, where they lost a 7-game thriller to the New York Yankees.

Mays would play in 24 All-Star games before retiring in 1973 after two seasons with the New York Mets.

His number 24 is retired by the San Francisco Giants.

“To a native San Franciscan, some things just go without question: it’s foggy in the summer, cable cars go halfway to the stars, and Willie Mays is the best there ever was,” San Francisco Mayor London Breed said Tuesday.

“He was from a generation who faced segregation and racism, a generation that paved the way so that many of us could have the freedom to thrive,” Breed continued.

‘One of baseball’s most exciting stars,’ says Mays’ Hall of Fame plaque

In 1979, Mays was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. “One of baseball’s most colorful and exciting stars excelled in all phases of the game,” his plaque reads.

That same year, he took a job as a greeter with a casino hotel. Baseball, which feared any connection with gambling, put him on permanent suspension. But Mays was welcomed back into the game in 1985 by commissioner Peter Ueberroth who said Mays “belongs in baseball.”

On Mays’ National Baseball Hall of Fame page, the late former baseball player and manager Leo Durocher is quoted as saying: “If somebody came up and hit .450, stole 100 bases and performed a miracle in the field every day, I’d still look you in the eye and say Willie was better.”

In 2015, President Barack Obama bestowed Mays with the nation’s highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

“We have never seen an all-around, five-tool player quite like Willie before,” Obama said.

“Willie also served our country, and his quiet example while excelling on one of America’s biggest stages helped carry forward the banner of civil rights,” the statement continued. “It’s because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for President.”

In 2017, Major League Baseball renamed the World Series Most Valuable Player Award after Mays.

Barry Bonds, who was Mays’ godson and holds the MLB career record for home runs at 762 after playing in the majors from 1986 to 2007 – including for the Giants – said Tuesday he was “beyond devastated and overcome with emotion.”

“I have no words to describe what you mean to me- you helped shape me to be who I am today. Thank you for being my Godfather and always being there. Give my dad a hug for me. Rest in peace Willie, I love you forever. #SayHey,” Bonds posted to Instagram.

Mays was “more than just a baseball icon,” California Gov. Gavin Newsom said in a release Tuesday.

“His impact extends far beyond baseball,” Newsom said. “He became an integral part of San Francisco’s cultural fabric and a cherished member of our community. His legacy will forever be intertwined with the legacy of the city he loved.”

CNN’s Emma Tucker, Elizabeth Joseph and Taylor Romine contributed to this report.

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