Home Sports Willie Mays is an icon whose legacy is ingrained in the fiber of baseball

Willie Mays is an icon whose legacy is ingrained in the fiber of baseball

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Willie Mays is an icon whose legacy is ingrained in the fiber of baseball

There have been players who were the best players of their era, and there have been players who were great representatives of the game of baseball.

Willie Mays did both and he did them at the highest level.

Mays, who died Tuesday at the age of 93, embodied everything you want, not only in a superstar but in a person. And the swagger, style and grace he displayed over four decades in baseball endeared him to the people of New York, San Francisco and the rest of the nation.

Mays was the greatest baseball player the world has ever seen. Maybe the best he’s ever seen. When you look back at The Say Hey Kid’s list of accomplishments and accolades, it’s hard to imagine that any player could have done all the things he accomplished, even in a 23-year career:

  • 1951 National League Rookie of the Year

  • 1954 World Series Champion

  • 3,293 visits

  • 660 home runs

  • 12 Gold Glove awards

  • 2 National League MVP awards

  • 24 All-Star Game selections

Offensively, Mays was a force at the plate. He was the second player in MLB history to join the 600 home run club, after Babe Ruth, and his 660 career home runs still rank sixth all time.

Defensively, Mays was unmatched. He was without a doubt the best center fielder in baseball. Before Ken Griffey Jr., Andruw Jones and Torii Hunter, there was Mays, roaming the Polo Grounds and his sprawling center field like a gazelle, making the impossible seem mundane. His 12 Gold Gloves awarded by a center fielder remain the most all-time at the position.

Mays’ over-the-shoulder catch more than 500 feet from home plate in the 1954 World Series, robbing Vic Wertz of a potential game-winning hit, is considered the greatest catch in baseball history. Seventy years later, he is still known simply as “The Catch.”

Red Sox great Ted Williams was as good as any player and is enshrined in Cooperstown in the Baseball Hall of Fame. But Williams might have made the most accurate statement in baseball history: “They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays.”

No. 24’s total of 24 All-Star nods is second only to the 25 of his old friend, Hank Aaron. The ability to maintain greatness for as long as Mays did is something he should never take for granted.

It’s too easy to call Mays a legend. That’s not because the term is incorrect or disrespectful. But for arguably the greatest baseball player of all time, he just doesn’t do it justice.

We would also be remiss if we did not point out that Mays’ excellence came at a time when black players were facing extremely difficult challenges related to bigotry, racism, and a society that did not accept them as people. Mays, who made his debut four years after Jackie Robinson broke MLB’s color barrier, was not only one of baseball’s first black superstars; He was one of the first black superstars in American professional sports. And her skills and grace resonated with black sports fans from coast to coast.

Mays was your favorite player’s favorite player, and that’s something that followed him for decades, both while he played and long after he stopped playing. When Mays played, he did so with a joy, energy and passion that resonated with generations of fans and generations of baseball players. The reaction he would get from a fan who watched him play for 23 years was the same reaction he would get from a player who grew up following him. The reverence and appreciation for everything Mays meant to baseball never ceased.

Starting at the age of 15, when he played for the Birmingham Black Barons at Rickwood Field, Mays began a long and successful journey to become part of the pantheon of baseball immortals. In the process, he left the game and the world in much better shape than he found it.

And even after a Hall of Fame-worthy career, that’s what made Mays great. In a room with the best players in the world, both when he played and afterwards, everyone knew that he was the best.

Willie Mays was not a legend. He was and will forever be an icon.

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