Army Vet Willy Mays dead at 93

| June 19, 2024 | 18 Comments

Willie Howard Mays,  one of the greatest baseball players in history and a pioneering early black black  player died yesterday, June 18, at the age of 93.

Mays played several sports at Fairfield Industrial High School. On the basketball team, he led players at all-black high schools in Jefferson County in scoring. Mays played quarterback, fullback and punter for the football team.

Willie started playing professional baseball while still in high school  on the Chattanooga Choo Choos and Birmingham Black Barons. (MLB was interested, but could not sign him until he graduated from high school.) He signed with the Giants organization in 1951.

Soon after the 1951 season ended, Mays learned the United States Army had drafted him to serve in the Korean War. Before he left to join the Army, Mays played the first few weeks of the 1952 season with the Giants. He batted .236 with four home runs in 34 games. He surprised sportswriters like Red Smith when he drew cheers from fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, the Giants’ archrivals, in his last game before reporting.

After his induction into the Army on May 29, Mays reported to Fort Eustis in Virginia, where he spent much of his time playing on military baseball teams with other major leaguers. It was at Fort Eustis that Mays learned the basket catch from fellow Fort Eustis outfielder Al Fortunato. Mays missed about 266 games because of his military service. Discharged on March 1, 1954, he reported to Giants’ spring training camp the following day.

If you don’t remember the famous “basket catch” from the ’54 World Series, you should go to The Catch and see it. Willy pegged it so well that he didn’t even look at the ball for the last 20 feet of its flight – he was too busy running to get under it.

A 24-time All-Star, this tied him for the second most in history. He led the NL in home runs four times and in slugging percentage five times while batting over .300 and posting 100 runs batted in (RBIs) ten times each. Mays was also at the forefront of a resurgence of speed as an offensive weapon in the 1950s, leading the league in stolen bases four times, triples three times, and runs twice; his 179 steals during the decade topped the major leagues. He was the first NL player to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in the same season, the first player in history to reach both 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases, and the second player and the first right-handed hitter to hit 600 home runs. Mays also set standards for defensive brilliance, winning 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards after their creation in 1957, still a record for outfielders; he led NL center fielders in double plays five times and assists three times.   Wiki

More than anything else, Willie was a class act and a hero to kids all over the country. He will be missed, not just as a ball player, but as a hell of a man.

Category: Veterans in the news, We Remember

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26Limabeans

“spent much of his time playing on military baseball teams”

Curious if there is a NSN for the bats etc.

SFC D

That’s your cue, Claw…

Claw

“NSN for the bats” – Yep, there sure is. Both baseball and softball bats. There’s a bunch of them. They all fall under Federal Stock Class 7810. The bats come as separate items (made by Wilson Sporting Goods) or you can get about six of them (along with balls, mitts, catcher’s masks, etc.) in NSN 7810-00-271-1755 Baseball Kit.

26Limabeans

Tnx Claw. I’d love to have a bat with the NSN burned into it.

Skippy

Rest Well
Salute 🫡

2banana

Why do I have flashbacks of the football game in the movie MASH?

“Mays reported to Fort Eustis in Virginia, where he spent much of his time playing on military baseball teams with other major leaguers.”

RGR 4-78

Rest in Peace.

TheCloser

His “basket catch” was waist-high in front of him (for routine fly-balls), the ’54 WS catch was over the shoulder running toward the outfield wall.
RIP Mister Mays.

Last edited 23 days ago by TheCloser
5JC

One of the all-time greats. Some might be grudge him for playing baseball instead of going off to the war, But it must have been a heck of a morale builder. Plus if you were lucky enough to see one of the games you could say later in life you saw Willy Mays before he was famous.

Claw

RIP “Say Hey Willie”. The NDSM Brotherhood will miss you.

AW1Ed

Fair winds and following seas.

jeff LPH 3 63-66

RIP Willie, I remember watching you playing ball on our small screen TV back in the day

KoB

Godspeed, Fare Well, and Rest Easy, Good Sir. An admirable life…Well Lived. A Class Act, indeed. Too bad we don’t see that in today’s athletes. And no, I don’t have any problem with him spending his Military Career playing ball. History is replete with examples of people that served in ways besides becoming Cannon Fodder. Not all can or want to be a Pat Tillman…or a James Stewart. Imagine, if you will, how Cassius Clay’s career may have been different if he had of just reported to the induction center, did his two (2) years doing exhibition boxing in uniform, and then moving on.

BlueCord Dad

My only quibble is, he wasn’t one of the greatest players, he THE greatest player in the history of the game….

fm2176

Rest in Peace. He was from a different era, where service to country was considered an honor and obligation, and where professional athletes played the game without the need for multi-million-dollar contracts and a soapbox to share their socio-political views from.

STSC(SW/SS)

Look at me, I can be centerfield.

John Fogerty.

RIP Willie.

Fyrfighter

RIP Mr Mays. He visited Childrens Hospital in Philadelphia when i was there as a kid. I was 11 yrs old. Got his autograph. He was very personable, spending time with any of us kids old enough to talk to him, and realize who he was. ( I think my dad was more excited than I was lol).

RCAF-CHAIRBORNE

Rest In Peace, Sir