Family releases statement on death of baseball legend Willie Mays

File Photo: Phil Greenblatt/UPI

PALO ALTO, California, June 18, 2024 (UPI) — Baseball legend Willie Mays, who spent the majority of his Hall of Fame tenure with the San Francisco Giants, died from heart failure, his family and the MLB franchise announced Tuesday. He was 93.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” Mays’ son, Michael, said in a statement released by the Giants.

“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.”

Mays, born in 1931 in Westfield, Ala., was one of the last living former participants of the Negro Leagues. Bill Greason, 99, and 97-year-old Ron Teasley are now the only men with that distinction.

Known as the “Say Hey Kid,” Mays was arguably the best player baseball history. He started his legendary career as a 16-year-old member of the Birmingham Black Barons in 1948 — manning center field for the Negro Leagues club before he graduated high school. The Barons went on to win the Negro League World Series during that campaign.

Mays joined the New York Giants organization in 1950 and made his MLB debut in 1951 — becoming just the 10th Black player in league history. He earned Rookie of the Year honors for that campaign.

Mays served in the Army in 1952 and 1953, but returned to win National League MVP honors in 1954. He hit a league-best .345 with 41 home runs, 13 triples and 110 RBIs that season.

He also led the Giants to the 1954 World Series title. Mays made one of the most famous defensive plays in league history during that series.

Dubbed “The Catch,” Mays robbed Vic Wertz of the Cleveland Indians of a hit during Game 1 of the title series by miraculously tracking a fly ball over his head, while running with his back to the plate, before sticking out his glove and securing the iconic basket-style grab.

Mays won a second MVP award in 1965 for the San Francisco Giants. He was a 24-time All-Star and 12-time Gold Glove Award winner.

Mays, who was traded in 1972, spent his final two seasons with the New York Mets.

In his career, he hit .301 with 660 home runs — the sixth most in MLB history — over his 3,005 major league appearances. He also collected 3,293 hits and 339 steals.

Mays was enshrined into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. He received a then record 94.7% of the votes cast.

Mays’ death came two days before MLB was set to celebrate the Negro Leagues during MLB at Rickwood Field, the Birmingham, Ala., facility at which Mays made his professional debut.

Mays will be honored during a pregame ceremony. The St. Louis Cardinals will face the Giants in the MLB matchup at 7:15 p.m. EDT Thursday.

“All of Major League Baseball is in mourning today as we are gathered at the very ballpark where a career and a legacy like no other began,” MLB commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement.

“Willie Mays took his all-around brilliance from the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League to the historic Giants franchise. From coast-to-coast in New York and San Francisco, Willie inspired generations of players and fans as the game grew and truly earned its place as our National Pastime.”

Mays issued a statement earlier this week saying he would not be attend the event. He said he planned to follow the game from the Bay Area.

“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 said in that statement to the San Francisco Chronicle.

“I wanted to thank Major League Baseball, the Giants, the Cardinals and all the fans who’ll be at Rickwood or watching the game. It’ll be a special day, and I hope the kids will enjoy it and be inspired by it.”


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