Willie Mays returned to Oracle Park on September 28 for only the second time since the start of the pandemic, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
Mays apologized to clubhouse attendees as Giant’s players lined up to greet him. “I want to make sure I keep up with the guys,” he said, and later emphasized, “I never missed so many games in my life.”
From 1950 to 1972, Mays played on Ebbetts Field and Candlestick Park with such style and grace that he established himself as a hero, and as someone who courageously broke color barriers in the City by the Bay.
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, the baseball legend returned looking sharp and alert, radiating zest and vigor. The 91-year-old legend energized the clubhouse, just like he did during his first visit back to the park.
Mays, known as the “Say Hey” kid, followed in Jackie Robinson’s footsteps and exceeded the game’s expectations once he conquered his lack of confidence. Leo Durocher chose not to demote the rookie when he struggled.
Mays begged “Louie the Lip” to send him down to the minors because he believed he couldn’t hit major league curve balls, reported the Chronicle. Eventually, Mays hit his first home run off Hall-of-Famer Warren Spahn and never looked back.
Mays finished an illustrious career with 660 home runs. Many believed that the “Say Hey” kid would have eclipsed Babe Ruth’s home run record if he hadn’t lost two years of his prime while serving in the Korean War.
Mays shared the spotlight with teammate and Hall-of-Famer Willie McCovey. Giants’ announcer Lon Simmons always referred to them as Mays and McCovey. The duo cemented their own greatness and helped open the door to major league baseball for Black and Latino players.
Everyone remembers his cap flying off his head from speed generated during effortless pursuits of fly balls. With his back to the wall, he stole a potentially game-winning extra-base hit from Indians’ outfielder Vic Wertz in the World Series.
Dr. Carla Pugh, Mays’ personal physician, told the Chronicle, “Mays is doing amazing from a cognitive perspective. He’s at the top of his game. It’s rare to have situational awareness like he has, that bodes well for his rehab. I’ve never seen anything like that from a 91 year-old.”
When he played, Mays caught fly balls with his glove against his sternum or waist, inventing what became known as “the basket catch.” “Just don’t try to catch it my way. Catch it your way,” Mays told younger players.