Friday, May 06, 2011

Say Hey, it’s Willie Mays 80th birthday

 

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photo by number2son on flickr

 

I am in San Francisco for a really exciting birthday party for one of baseball’s legends. Willie Mays was very active in the Atlantic City, NJ area over the 1970’s and 80’s when he worked for Bally’s Casino as a spokesman. Mays appeared in numerous events in the South Jersey/Philly area, and I remember sitting right next to him as a kid at a softball game and he was really cordial and nice and talked to me a little about his baseball career and World Series ring.

 

The word ‘legend’ is not used very often in baseball when you are talking about players who are in the Hall of Fame that are still alive. Willie Mays is one of those legends of baseball, and he is 80 today. The San Francisco Giants are honoring Willie with a special 80th Birthday celebration at AT&T Park tonight.

 

Mays is perhaps most associated with a catch he made in the 1954 World Series, when he ran out towards dead center field with his back to the ball and somehow tracked it down. Willies Mays’ playing career was a star studded and long career. It all started for Willie in 1951 when he was 20 years old. Mays started off cold going 0-12 in his first 12 AB’s. He finished his first season with a respectable 20 homeruns in 121 games. His batting average in his first year finished at .274 and he was the 1951 Rookie of The Year.

 

Just two years after Willie made his debut, he was voted an All Star during the season and then was a key factor in the 1954 World Series, he performed amazingly in the series and he was voted MVP for the season. Mays’ catch out in center is still replayed countless times in baseball highlights and is one of the most famous catches ever in baseball.

 

Mays baseball playing career stretched an incredible 22 years. He ended up as a New York Met in 1973 when he called it a career. He was voted into the Hall of Fame with a 94.7% vote in 1979. Mays ended his career with a .302 BA, and 660 HR which Is currently 4th all time. Alex Rodriguez is the closest active player to Mays HR total with 618.

 

In San Francisco, Willie Mays is honored at the AT&T Park with a huge statue and street named after him called Willie Mays Plaza. In fact, the Giants mailing address is 24 Willie Mays Plaza, of course 24 was Willie Mays number. There are also 24 palm trees planted out in the Plaza to honor Mays around the street for which he named after.

 

Mays remains very active in the baseball world, he offers tips to any Giants player who cares to ask him and he is involved in speaking engagements and his charitable foundation called the Say Hey Foundation. He was given a ‘lifetime’ contract by the Giants owner in 1993, and he asked for an extension! Now that’s a ballplayer. When Mays was asked if he understood that the contract was for ‘life’, he said that he understood that but still wanted an ‘extension’.

 

Check out a Willie Mays photo slideshow from the Mercury News here

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