Spring break is now over, and it is time for the regular season to get started again. That is always a good time to look back at some of the greatest players that ever lived. Remember, each of the greats also spent time in Spring Training each year, perfecting their skills, honing them, to become the greatest of all time.
He was one of the greatest baseball players to ever put on a uniform, and like some other notable players, he played and came to prominence at a time that African Americans playing America's past time in the major leagues was still something most people did not like - at least those with white skin. But, he played, played through the tough times, and became an all-time great. He also earned the nickname The Say Hey Kid, but you may know him better at Willie Mays.
Mays was born in Westfield, Alabama, in 1931, the very heart of segregation and bigotry. He came from a lineage of talented baseball players, his father was also a talent. His mother played basketball and ran track in high school to much winning and acclaim. His parents, however, never married each other and Willie Mays was raised by his mother's younger sisters.
Mays started playing baseball on a professional level in 1947 while he was still in high school. He played for a brief time with the Chattanooga Choo Choos baseball team in Tennessee during the summer months. He then returned to Alabama to play in his hometown Negro League team the Birmingham Black Barons. Mays became crucial in helping that team win a pennant race and get to the 1948 Negro League World Series, but the Black Barons lost to the Homestead Grays four games to one. Mays hit a respectable .226 that season, and shone as an outstanding fielder and baserunner.
During his time in the Negro Leagues he was scouted by a number of Major League teams, including the Boston Braves and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Ultimately, however, he was signed by the New York Giants and was then assigned to their minor league teams for further training and playing time.
It wasn't too long before the Giants realized that Mays was such a talent that he should be in the Big Show. He started playing in the majors in 1951, but he started of with zero hits at 12 at-bats. In his 13th appearance he hit a home run off of future hall of fame pitcher Warren Spahn and hit the ball over the fence in the huge Polo Grounds stadium that was the Giants' home at that time. Throughout the rest of the season the numbers Mays had improved.
Mays would stick with the Giants until 1972 and then finish his career playing for the New York Mets. Overall, throughout his career, he had a batting average of .302 and had 660 home runs. He also notched 3,283 hits and had 1,903 RBIs. The rest of his stats just get more impressive after that.
Mays was an All Star 24 times. He was on a World Series championships team only once, with the Giants, in 1954. He was a 12-time Gold Glove winner and a two-time National League MVP. He won the prestigious Roberto Clemente Award in 1971. In 1961 he hit four of those 660 home runs in a single game.
Finally, Willie Mays is also known for a defensive play during the 1954 World Series known as "The Catch." Vic Wertz hit what was a towering hit into right field at the Polo Grounds - a shot that should have been uncatchable. Mays ran after it and pulled it in, saving the game, over his shoulder, his back to the plate. The catch preserved a tie game and eventually allowed the Giant to go on and win it. Mays is still active within the GIants organization, making appearances during Spring Training and acting as coach and mentor to future players, as well as making publicity appearances. Finally, Mays also happens to be the godfather to slugger Barry Bonds.