Tribute to Willie Mays

“In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport. You must also be prepared to work hard and be willing to accept constructive criticism. Without one-hundred percent dedication, you won’t be able to do this.” ~Willie Mays

President Barack Obama talks with baseball great Willie Mays aboard Air Force One en route to the MLB All-Star Game in St. Louis, July 14, 2009 (courtesy of the Barack Obama Presidential Library)

On June 18, 2024, Hall of Fame baseball player Willie Mays passed away at the age of 93 in Palo Alto, California. The center fielder played for the Birmingham Barons, and the New York, then later the San Francisco Giants, for 23 seasons. The “Say Hey Kid” had a .301 batting average, 3,293 hits, 660 home runs, and 339 stolen bases. He received several awards as a player, which included the National League Rookie of the Year, 2 Most Valuable Player Awards, 12 Golden Glove Awards, and the Roberto Clemente Award. He played in the 1948 Negro World Series and the 1954 World Series (where he made the greatest catch in MLB history, simply known as “The Catch“), was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, and in 2015, Mays also received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama.

Willie Howard Mays, Jr. was born on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama to Willie “Cat” Mays, Sr. and Annie Satterwhite, who were both great athletes in their youth. His parents never married, and Mays stayed with his aunts Ernestine and Sarah Satterwhite when they separated. However, the younger Mays did get to spend a lot of time with his father, who taught him how to play baseball. While still in high school, Mays began playing professionally with the Negro League’s Birmingham Black Barons in 1948.

6-15-1984 Photo Op. President Reagan greeting baseball player Willie Mays from the Washington Charities Dinner in the Ground Floor Corridor

After high school, Mays signed with the Trenton, New Jersey Giants, where he first experienced playing on an all-white team. He was called up by the New York Giants in May 1951, where he made his professional debut in Major League Baseball. After his baseball career, Mays made appearances on several television shows, such as “The Donna Reed Show”, “Bewitched”, and “The Dating Game”, in addition to visiting the White House to meet Queen Elizabeth II of England by the invitation of President Gerald Ford.

Rickwood Field, where Mays and other greats played for the Birmingham Barons hosted its first Major League Baseball game on June 20th, 2024 in observance of Juneteenth and as a salute to the Negro Leagues. Rickwood Field (NAID 77836498) became part of the National Register for Historic Places in 2009.

The National Archives and the Presidential Libraries hold several documents, photographs, moving images, and sound recordings on Willie Mays. The Barack Obama Presidential Library has serval photographs, sound recordings, and press releases related to Mays’ baseball career and his receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom. These records include the video of a conversation between Willie Mays and President Obama during their flight to St. Louis where the President threw the first pitch at the MLB All-Star game. Other records at the National Archives include the file unit Mays, Willie in the series Gerald R. Ford Special Letters and the item in RG 306 Distinguished American #12: Willie Mays in the series Production Library Audio Recordings.

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