At 82 years old, Willie Mays can still bring a crowd to its
baseball legend reflected on his journey from Fairfield, Ala., to the Hall of
Fame -- and how
Mays regaled the capacity crowd with colorful stories from his life and 22 seasons in the Major Leagues, recalling his best-known plays and other milestones
and memories with a dash of humor and wit. Baseball announcer and historian Marty Laurie, who moderated the conversation, called the "Say Hey Kid" the best all-around player in the history of the game.
"Some could hit with power, some could hit for average, some could field, some could throw and some could run," Laurie said. "But Willie could do it all."
Mays got his start in the Negro Leagues, joining the Birmingham Black Barons when he was only 16. He was signed by the New York Giants when he was still in high school, skipping his senior prom to join the organization’s minor league team in Trenton, N.J.
He quickly moved up to Triple A in Minneapolis, where hit .477 and caught the attention of Giants manager Leo Durocher. Mays was in a movie theater in Sioux City Iowa when he got word that he’d been called up to the majors.
After arriving in the Big Apple in 1951, his career got off to a bit of slow start.
“I went 0 for 12 before I got a home run off Warren Span,” Mays said. “When I hit that home run, I knew I was ready.”
And that he was. He hit 22 homers and stole 22 bases in his first season, earning him National League Rookie of the Year honors.
A year later, in 1952, Mays became one of the first
African-American celebrities featured in
It was a natural fit for Mays, a lifelong
Mays’ teammates would kid him about his thirst for
“I still do that,” he told employees. “In fact, I had that last night.”
The 12-time Gold Glove-winning centerfielder explained how he came up with his signature basket catch and recounted what’s known as the greatest catch in baseball history. During game one of the 1954 World Series between the Giants and the Cleveland Indians, with the score tied in the 8th inning, Vic Wertz stepped up to the plate with runners on first and second and fired a deep shot to center.
The grab was one of many highlights from Mays’ storied
career, which landed him a spot alongside the all-time greats in 1979.
“Growing up in Fairfield, I’d think about the Hall of Fame, but I never thought I’d get there. When Jackie (Robinson) came in, I knew I had the chance to get in to the majors…but I didn’t think I fit into the Hall of Fame.”
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