Willie Mays, Baseball Legend and Hall of Famer, Dead at 93

The "Say Hey Kid," a pioneering baseball player for the New York and San Francisco Giants and New York Mets, died "peacefully"

<p>Bettmann Archive</p> Willie Mays in 1955

Bettmann Archive

Willie Mays in 1955

Willie Mays — the baseball legend who made history as the first Black team captain in the major leagues — has died. He was 93.

The San Francisco Giants announced the former center fielder, who also played for the New York Mets, died on Tuesday, June 18. Major League Baseball also announced his death.

"It is with great sadness that we announce that San Francisco Giants Legend and Hall of Famer Willie Mays passed away peacefully this afternoon at the age of 93," the team's statement read.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” Mays' son, Michael Mays, told the San Francisco Chronicle. “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.”

"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," MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. "We will never forget this true Giant on and off the field.”

Courtesy of HBO
Courtesy of HBO

Mays died the day after he told the Chronicle he would not be able to attend the Negro Leagues tribute game between the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala. on Thursday, June 20.

Born on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Ala., Mays was raised by his father, William Howard "Cat" Mays Sr. — who played baseball as well — and his two aunts, Sarah and Ernestine. His mother, Annie Satterwhite, was also an athlete who competed in high school basketball and track.

The "Say Hey Kid" started out playing for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League — an operation that took shape after Jim Crow laws segregated Black and White baseball players in 1900, per the official website — in 1948. The Giants purchased his contract in 1950, and after a slow start, Mays earned the National League's Rookie of the Year award in 1951 with 20 home runs.

Mays played 21 seasons before being traded to the New York Mets in 1972. Though he only competed for the Mets for two seasons, he advanced the team with 14 home runs.

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Related: Check Out Barry Bonds' Selfie with a Sleeping Willie Mays

In 1973, the baseball icon retired with 24 All-Star awards, 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, two National League MVP awards and 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards to his name, and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. (He became the oldest living Hall of Famer when the Los Angeles Dodgers pitcher Tommy Lasorda died in 2021.)

Due to his undeniable impact, the Giants retired his No. 24 jersey on May 12, 1972, and the Mets repeated the same action 50 years later on Aug. 27, 2022.

"I can never forget the way it felt to return to New York to play for all the loyal Mets fans," Mays said in a statement read by Howie Rose during the Mets' Old-Timers' Day celebration in 2022, per ESPN. "I'm tremendously proud I ended my career in Queens with the Mets during the '73 World Series. It's an honor to have my number retired in my two favorite cities — New York and San Francisco. New York was a magical place to play baseball."

Courtesy Phoenix Art Museum and Arizona Diamondbacks The 1951 Bowman Willie Mays Card
Courtesy Phoenix Art Museum and Arizona Diamondbacks The 1951 Bowman Willie Mays Card

Director George Nelson chronicled the life and legacy of Mays in the 2022 HBO documentary Say Hey, Willie Mays! The film also explored the racism and controversies the icon faced, including criticism from Jackie Robinson — the first African American player in Major League Baseball — on Mays remaining silent during the civil rights movement.

Mays responded to Robinson in the documentary, saying, "Everyone must do his own job in his own way. And in my heart, my way is just as important as Jackie Robinson's way."

"The No. 1 word for Willie Mays was loyalty. If you're in with Willie, you're in," Nelson told PEOPLE ahead of the film’s premiere on Nov. 8. "Willie had a feeling that, 'My presence in the world is to bring people together.' "

The sports star was beloved by many, such as former American president Barack Obama — who granted him the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015. For Mays' 91st birthday in 2022, Obama shared a video on Twitter of him chatting with the former baseball player on Air Force One during his first year in office.

Pete Souza/The White House via Getty
Pete Souza/The White House via Getty

Related: Willie Mays Is 90: Barack Obama Wishes a Happy Birthday to the Oldest Living Hall of Famer

"Let me tell you, you helped us get there. If it hadn't been for folks like you and Jackie [Robinson], I'm not sure that I would get elected to the White House," Obama told Mays in 2009 aboard Air Force One, per The Obama White House. "The spirit you put in the game, how you carried yourself, all that really makes a difference. It changed people's attitudes. So, you played a part in it."

In May 2024, MLB added Negro Leagues statistics to its official record, increasing Mays' career hits total to 3,293 thanks to 10 hits he recorded as a member of the 1948 Birmingham Black Barons.

The celebrated athlete married Margherite Wendell Chapman in 1956, and they went on to adopt a son, Michael, before divorcing in 1963. He later wed child welfare worker Mae Louise Allen in 1971, who died from Alzheimer's disease on April 19, 2013, at the age of 74, as reported by MLB.

Mays is survived by son Michael and godson Barry Bonds, the retired baseball player and child of his former Giants teammate and close friend, Bobby Bonds.

"I am 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," Bonds wrote on Instagram. "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."

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