Willie Mays dies: Giants legend and MLB Hall of Famer was 93

Willie Mays, the electrifying "Say Hey Kid" whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball's greatest and most beloved players, has died. He was 93.

Mays' family and the Giants jointly announced his death on Tuesday. 

San Francisco Giants wrote of the Giants legend and Hall of Famer on social media, "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."

"My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones," said Michael Mays. "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."

Just yesterday, Mays said he would not be able to attend a Negro League tribute game in Alabama due to his ailing health

"I'm not able to get to Birmingham this year but will follow the game back here in the Bay Area," Mays told the Chronicle. "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. 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."

The Giants and the Cardinals are set to face off at Rickwood Field this week to pay tribute to Mays as well as the Negro Leagues.

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(Original Caption) Willie Mays of the Giants bellows his war cry of "Say Hey" here before the second game of the 1954 World Series got underway.

Mays started his career in the 1950s, when he played in the Negro League for the Birmingham Black Barons. He went on to play for the Giants until the early 1970s. He was baseball's oldest living Hall of Famer. 

Mays finished his career with 660 home runs, which ranks sixth all-time in MLB history. He ranks 12th all-time for hits with 3,293 and RBIs with 1,903.

Between 1954 and 1966, Mays drove in 100 or more runs 10 times, scored 100 or more 12 times, hit 40 or more homers six times, more than 50 homers twice and led the league in stolen bases four times. His numbers might have been bigger. He missed most of 1952 and all of 1953 because of military service, quite possibly costing him the chance to overtake Babe Ruth's career home run record of 714, an honor that first went to Henry Aaron; then Mays' godson, Barry Bonds. He likely would have won more Gold Gloves if the award had been established before 1956. He insisted he would have led the league in steals more often had he tried.

"I am beyond devastated and overcome with emotion. I have no words to describe what you mean to me," Bonds wrote on Instagram.

Word of Mays' death came as the Giants were playing the Chicago Cubs. 

Major League Baseball reacted on X saying, "We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Hall of Famer Willie Mays, one of the most exciting all-around players in the history of our sport. Mays was a two-time MVP, 24-time All-Star, 12-time Gold Glove Award winner, and a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. In commemoration of "The Catch" as perhaps the most famous play in the history of the Fall Classic, the World Series MVP Award was named in his honor in 2017."

WATCH: Exploring the start of Willie Mays' career 

A more complete statement was issued by MLB Commissioner Robert D. Manfred Jr.: 


"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. 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.

"Just as his career was ascending, Willie served his country in the U.S. Army in 1952 and 1953. As the 1954 NL MVP, he led the Giants to victory in the World Series, in which he made one of the most memorable plays ever with ‘The Catch’ in the deep center field of the Polo Grounds."

The statement continues: 

"And yet 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. We will never forget this true Giant on and off the field. On behalf of Major League Baseball, I extend my deepest condolences to Willie’s family, his friends across our game, Giants fans everywhere, and his countless admirers across the world.

"Thursday’s game at historic Rickwood Field was designed to be a celebration of Willie Mays and his peers. With sadness in our hearts, it will now also serve as a national remembrance of an American who will forever remain on the short list of the most impactful individuals our great game has ever known."

Calling it perhaps the most famous defensive play in the history of the Fall Classic, The League said in commemoration of "The Catch", the World Series Most Valuable Player Award was named in Mays' honor on the milestone anniversary on Sept. 29, 2017. 

Some Willie Mays facts

  • At the age of 16, Willie Mays joined the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League in 1948, playing only on Sunday during the school year.
  • The New York Giants purchased his contract in 1950 when he graduated from Fairfield Industrial High School.
  • He spent most of 1952 and all of 1953 in the Army, but in 1954, Mays led the league with a .345 batting average and 13 triples while hitting 41 home runs and driving in 110 runs.
  • Mays played 21 seasons with the Giants and finished up with the Mets in 1972 and 1973.
  • During his 23-year Major League playing career, Mays was named Most Valuable Player twice, first as a New York Giant (1954) and then as a San Francisco Giant (1965).
  • He holds the all-time record for putouts by an outfielder, with a career total of 7,095.
  • He won 12 Gold Gloves in center field and appeared in 24 All-Star games.
  • He led the league in home runs four times, stolen bases four times, slugging percentage five times, total bases three times and triples three times.
  • He was third on the all-time home run list with 660 until 2003 when Barry Bonds, passed him.
  • The "Say Hey Kid" was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1979, the first year of his eligibility (the ninth player to make it on his first try).
  • Mays’ uniform number, 24, has been retired by the Giants, as he remains the franchise leader in games played (2,857), at-bats (10,477), runs (2,011), hits (3,187), doubles (504), home runs (646), total bases (5,907) and extra-base hits (1,289).
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New York Giants Willie Mays No. 24(Photo By: Walter Kelleher/NY Daily News via Getty Images)

Giants CEO Larry Baer worked with Mays closely for 30 years. Baer, who was in Chicago, said over the phone that Mays was a model of sportsmanship and generosity. 

"I think Willie's legacy is the purity of the sport and the joy, which he played the game and how he embraced his teammates," said Baer. He added that as a member of the front office, he'd bring dozens of balls and call kids from the community over and say, "this is for you." Baer said Mays' spirit and love of the game of baseball will live on generations and that a celebration of life will be planned at the ballpark in San Francisco later this season. 

San Francisco Mayor London Breed wrote in a tribute, "To a native San Franciscan, some things just go without question: it’s foggy in the summer, cable cars go halfway to the stars, and Willie Mays is the best there ever was."

She said it was the "opportunity of a lifetime" to meet him and had heard of the struggles he endured because he was Black. "He was from a generation who faced segregation and racism, a generation that paved the way so that many of us could have the freedom to thrive." 

Former SF Mayor Willie Brown spoke about the sports legend's passing and his impact. "Willie Mays was unusual. And the god-given talent that he had, he displayed full time and never in confrontation on anything. Whether it was how much he was paid, whether or not somebody made a bad call with reference to him. Willie Mays was very, very unusual and incredibly effective without being on a soapbox," said Brown. 

Across the Bay, the Oakland A's sent their condolences. "We join the entire baseball community in mourning the passing of Hall of Famer Willie Mays. Our hearts go out to the Mays family and all of his loved ones." 

A host of others from the sports world and the political realm weighed in on Mays' death, a true testament to his contribution as a player and as a monumental historical figure. 

The Associated Press contributed to this report.