Willie Mays

American Hall of Fame baseball player

Willie Howard Mays, Jr. (May 6, 1931June 18, 2024) was a Major League Baseball player for 22 seasons, starting his career with the Giants in New York, remaining with the team during their relocation to San Francisco, and then ending his career with the New York Mets.

Willie Mays

Mays is considered one the greatest players of all time for his acrobatic fielding, steady hitting, and impressive baserunning. He is best remembered for his spectacular catch in game 1 of the 1954 World Series between the New York Giants and the Cleveland Indians. Mays finished his career with 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, 1,903 runs batted in, and 7,095 putouts.


  • Mays said he thought maybe the Skinner catch was a bit better than yesterday's, as well as a catch he made on a ball hit this season by Gus Bell of the Cincinnati Reds. "But I don't want to compare 'em," said Willie. "I'm just a ballplayer, not a sports writer. I don't compare 'em; I just catch 'em."
    • Reluctantly comparing his famous catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series to a pair of catches made during that season on May 26 and June 6, respectively (the latter "circus catch" made not against Bell, as per Mays' recollection, but rather Chuck Harmon, who directly preceded Bell in the lineup that day); as paraphrased and quoted in "Willie Modestly Scoffs at Raves Over Big Catch" by UPI, in Newsday (September 30, 1954), p. 95
  • Gee, I've been asked hundreds of questions about that catch in the first game of the World Series. The one that Vic Wertz hit for Cleveland. Was it my best catch? How did I play it? Honestly, I don't rate 'em—I just try to catch 'em. When he hit the ball, I just started toward the place it was heading. And I got there.
    • In "Willie 'Just Knows' His Job" by Mays, in The Daily Mail (March 25, 1955), p. 16
  • Any time I'm not playing, I watch the game at home on television. That way I can relax and if I decide to make a catch off my playroom wall, nobody is the wiser.
    • Regarding his decision not to attend Game 1 of the 1960 World Series, despite having been in Pittsburgh the previous day for a TV appearance; as quoted in "Change of Pace" by Bill Nunn, Jr., in The Pittsburgh Courier (October 15, 1960), p. 25
  • Aw-Kay Vaughan?! Aw-kay Vaughan?! Oh my God, Ralph, please ... I've hit 600 and some home runs. Don't be givin' me no Aw-kay Vaughan, please!
    • Speaking with Ralph Kiner on Kiner's Korner, circa 1972 or 1973, after having had his replayed home run swing commended by the host and likened to that of the late Arky Vaughan; as quoted in "Gene Therapy" by Gene Collier, in The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (April 4, 2003)
  • You're not from New York, are you? You can't be from New York. Well, when I broke in, I didn't know many people by name so I would just say, "Say, hey," and the writers picked that up. The writers here in New York can make anything happen, so they made that happen.
  • That’s not like me, but I was giving my honest opinion. It doesn’t sound too good, though. [As for the second best player,] I’d have to say Roberto Clemente. He could do anything with the bat and in the field. And then there’s Cesar Cedeno. I don’t know why he hasn’t put it all together. He can do it all.
  • I wasn't the best hitter, Ted Williams was. I wasn't the best fielder, Roberto Clemente was. I wasn't the best base stealer, Maury Wills was. But I was among the best in everything.
  • I managed the field when I played. The other players played off me, like a quarterback. One, two, three. Fastball, breaking ball, change. [...] I set the defenses, infield and outfield, and I called the pitches. We had one rule: if you didn't follow what I said, you didn't play. [...] The catcher, Dick Dietz, would stand up. He'd look at me. I'd give the signal, then he'd crouch down and give it to the pitcher. The pitcher could turn to me and rub it off if he didn't like it. [...] When every guy came up to bat, I would set up a defense for that hitter and I would give one sign to the catcher. If I called for a fastball, it didn't mean the pitcher was going to throw all fastballs. That meant, Make this guy hit a fastball. Let him see a breaking ball, but make him hit a fastball. Then you set the defense according to how he pitches. With Gaylord or Marichal, if they say, "I'm going to make him hit a fastball," they make him hit a fastball. If I got a pitcher to play with me, 90 per cent of the time we could catch that ball. We all played together. Infield, outfield, together.
  • Herman didn't interfere with me. He gave me that authority. I managed the field. Whatever went on on the field, I did it. I did every . . . thing. Nowadays, the manager tells everybody what to do, the manager does everything. That's why you see this [pantomiming a catcher repeatedly glancing over at the dugout]. When we played, we just looked on the field. Usually it was an infielder. The Dodgers were run by Pee Wee. Alston just sat in the dugout. Usually it was an infielder, but Herman gave me the authority.

Academy of Achievement Interview (1996)


Interview with Willie Mays (February 19, 1996)

  • I just felt baseball was a beautiful game, especially at night. The sun -- I mean, you had the lights out there and all you do is go out there, and you're out there by yourself in center field, and it's just a beautiful game. And, I just felt that it was such a beautiful game that I just wanted to play it forever, you know.
  • I never had any training. I never had a guy say to me, "Do it this way, do it that way." When I was growing up, I was the last guy to get picked for every team that I was on. If they needed a pitcher, I pitched. If there was a catcher needed, I caught. First baseman, shortstop, whatever position they needed, that's what I played. I felt I was the best all-around athlete on that particular team. Most of them couldn't do that, everybody wanted to play a position. It didn't matter what position I played. I just had fun and enjoyed it.
Willie Mays' glove used in The Catch
  • People talk about that catch and, I've said this many times, that I've made better catches than that many times in regular season. But of course in my time, you didn't have a lot of television during the regular season. A lot of people didn't see me do a lot of things.
  • I think the key to that particular play was the throw. I knew I had the ball all the time. In my mind, because I was so cocky at that particular time when I was young, whatever went in the air I felt that I could catch. That's how sure I would be about myself. When the ball went up I had no idea that I wasn't going to catch the ball. As I'm running -- I'm running backwards and I'm saying to myself, "How am I going to get this ball back into the infield?"
  • The greatest challenge I think is adjusting to not playing baseball. The reason for that is that I had to come out of baseball and come into the business world, not being a college graduate, not being educated to come into the business world the way I should have. And, instead of people doing things for me, I had to do things for myself. That was scary for me.
  • I'm a very lucky guy. I had so many people help me over the years that I never had many problems. If I had a problem, I could sit down with someone and they would explain the problem to me, and the problem become like a baseball game. You're at home plate now, how do you get to first? How do you get to second? How do you get to third? When you get back to home, your problem is solved. That's the way I view the business world, I view it as a baseball game. Once you start thinking the way you've been taught to think over so many years, you have no problems.
  • I would say the main thing in any young kid's life is education. Even if a guy is prejudiced, he can be educated to understand why he is prejudiced. Education plays a great role in all life, whether you're black or white. You've got to go to high school, you've got to go to college. When you come out of college or high school, you can play sports. If you ever get hurt, they can't take that brain away from you, you've got that.
  • The American Dream can come in many different ways for many different people. It doesn't have to come in the way they explain it to you. Now, the American Dream can come if a guy hits the lottery. Who in the world thought he would hit a lottery? That's the American Dream for him. But I look at it from day one, moving up the ladder, and moving up the ladder. Now you get to the top of the ladder and you have to look back. How did you get to that ladder? To me, that's the American Dream.

About Willie Mays

Alphabetized by author
  • Do you have to ask? Willie was pretty good and we never really had a regular left fielder all those years, so I guess I can make room for him in there somewhere.
    • Roy Campanella, regarding his decision to populate his "ultimate lineup" almost exclusively with teammates; as quoted in The Greatest Team of All Timeː As Selected by Baseball's Immortals, From Ty Cobb to Willie Mays (1994) by Nicholas Acocella and Donald Dewey, p. 17
  • How do you measure a man? How can you compare one man with another unless you’ve seen them both? I cannot tell about other men who played long ago. I saw Mays. To me, Willie Mays is the greatest who ever played. But he is forty and has had his days – he is tired. San Francisco is all tired. For them it was not easy. For twenty days, they were in a tight pennant race and don’t know where they are. Mentally, they were going to be tight. You could see Mays is tired.
    • Roberto Clemente, speaking with reporters after the 1971 NLCS, as quoted in Clemente! (1973) by Kal Wagenheim, pp. 194-195
  • Willie Mays is the greatest ball player I've ever seen. I never saw Joe DiMaggio play, but if Joe DiMaggio was better than Willie Mays, he belongs in Heaven.
  • An unusual event occurred in the seventh. Greengrass tripled over the head of Willie Mays. To a Giant fan this is like tripling over the Empire State building. Willie galloped after the drive but his horse ran second as the ball descended a few inches beyond his reach, a step or two away from the centerfield fence.
    • Bob Cooke: “Giants Down Reds, 6-1, Lead by 3,” The New York Herald Tribune (July 31, 1954), p. 11
  • He and Joe DiMaggio are the greatest center fielders I ever saw. But Joe couldn't run the bases as well: he wasn't as daring as Willie. I would pay money just to see him play. He brings back the old days for a fellow like myself.
    • Frankie Frisch, as quoted in "Willie Mays Must Be the Mostest," in The Los Angeles Sentinel (July 4, 1957), p. B1
  • How about that arm? It's the greatest I ever saw. Bob Meusel, of the old-time Yankees, was good, too. But you can't beat Willie.
    • Frankie Frisch, as quoted in "Willie Mays Must Be the Mostest"
  • Mays is no safety-first player, and that's one of the reasons why he's such a great guy on the bases. Those safety-first players are worth five cents a bushel. They stand around counting their money while a guy like Willie is winning the game.
    • Frankie Frisch, as quoted in "Here's the Pitch" by Frank Finch, in The Los Angeles Times (June 5, 1958), p. C2
  • I always thought Joe DiMaggio's catch of a ball Hank Greenberg hit about 1938 was the best. DiMag turned as soon as the ball was hit and was still going at top speed when he caught the ball near the monument in centerfield at Yankee Stadium. But DiMaggio's catch is now No. 2. I've just seen No. 1. To give you an idea of what Mays beat and with what respect DiMaggio's catch was held, the Tiger bench waved towels at DiMaggio as mark of esteem. But that Mays. He makes impossible catches.
  • You know I didn't think that he would ever get to the ball, but he did. But then he had the presence of mind to wheel and throw the ball to second base to keep Larry Doby from scoring. Actually if he had tagged up, he could have scored from second base; that's how far the ball was hit. Now on the way in, after we got the third out, I ran in with him. You know, so I said to him, I said 'I didn't think you were going to get to that one'. He said 'You kiddin'? I had that one all the way.'
  • Well, gentlemen, I'll tell ya — for the first 60 feet that was a hell of a pitch.
    • Warren Spahn describing to reporters his pitch that Willie Mays hit for his first career MLB home run. [2].
  • It was here that Mays amazed again. He scooped the ball up at the base of the 406-foot sign, whirled and fired. It came in on one bounce, directly in front of the plate, and into the glove of catcher Tom Haller, who put it on the astonished Willie Stargell. It was described by old-timers as the greatest throw ever made in ancient Forbes Field, but it was a costly one. Mays hurt himself on the heroic effort.
    • Bob Stevens, in "Giants Lose; Mays, Cepeda Hurt; SF Loses, 5-2," The San Francisco Chronicle (August 25, 1965), p. 51
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