Obama Honors Baseball Legend Willie Mays On His 90th Birthday
Mays is the subject of a new untitled HBO documentary about his life and legacy that is set to release next year.
May 06, 2021 at 9:43 pm
Today marks the 90th birthday of baseball legend and trailblazer Willie Mays, often referred to as one of the greatest baseball players of all time.
“If you think about it, the players that came out of the Negro Leagues [like Mays did], they weren’t just good. They were exceptional,” former MLB Network analyst Harold Reynolds said, according to MLB. “The cream of the crop of athletes, Willie was the greatest. I think we overlook his athleticism and abilities.”
Mays entered the baseball world at age 16 when he joined the Birmingham Barons of the American Negro League. In 1951, at age 20, Mays made his major league debut with the New York Giants. The baseball star remained with the New York/San Francisco Giants for 21 seasons before wrapping up his career with the New York Mets in 1973.
"You'd sit on the bench and watch Willie Mays," Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said, ESPN reports. "It was so exciting just to watch him. People did that with Jim Brown. They did that with the acrobatics and greatness of [Michael] Jordan. It's like players today going to watch the pregame warm-ups of Steph Curry. To watch Willie warm up, to throw the ball underhand, to make a basket catch. The beauty and the grace."
"For the kids today, it was like watching Simone Biles. It was like watching [Mikhail] Baryshnikov. It was poetry in motion. It was so beautiful, so pretty, to watch this athlete just run on the field, catch a ball. I loved to play against Willie Mays because it meant that I got to watch Willie Mays," Jackson continued.
Former President Barack Obama acknowledged the retired center fielder’s charisma on the baseball field and how he paved the way for Black Americans like himself.
“Happy 90th birthday to Willie Mays! If it wasn't for folks like Willie and Jackie Robinson, I might never have made it to the White House,” Obama wrote in a tweet along with a photo of the pair on Air Force One in 2009. “The spirit he played with and the way he carried himself changed the game and people’s attitudes. I’m glad he’s still going strong.”
Happy 90th birthday to Willie Mays! If it wasn't for folks like Willie and Jackie Robinson, I might never have made it to the White House. The spirit he played with and the way he carried himself changed the game and people’s attitudes. I’m glad he’s still going strong. pic.twitter.com/DTlRlart5U— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 6, 2021
In 2015, Obama awarded Mays with the Presidential Medal of Freedom which honors citizens who have made significant and outstanding contributions to the United States in various categories.
During his career, Mays, known as “The Say Hey Kid,” made 660 home runs, held a .302 average and made 3,283 hits. At Game 1 of the 1954 World Series, during baseball’s Golden Era, Mays executed his iconic baseball play, an over-the-shoulder capture simply called “The Catch.”
He also received two MVP acknowledgments, and in 1979, he was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
"Best player I've ever seen," sportscaster and former catcher Tim McCarver said. "He could do all the things that other guys couldn't."
While Mays is celebrating his 90 years on Earth, HBO is celebrating his enduring legacy with a new documentary that will feature the athlete’s career highlights, interviews and his influence both on and off the baseball field.Director Nelson George called Mays an “American icon,” noting how much of an honor it is to be spearheading the feature, which is set to release next year.
“Willie Mays is an American icon, a prime example of Black excellence and baseball’s greatest player,” George said. “It’s an honor to be able to chronicle his journey from the Negro Leagues in Alabama, stardom with the Giants in Harlem and to the game’s apex in San Francisco.”
Mays also shared how although people idolize him, the real inspiration comes from his peers.
“Some say that throughout my life I have inspired others, but the truth is that so many have done this for me,” Mays told Deadline. “My teammates, my friends, and of course the fans mean so much to me. And so I hope this documentary can give back to all of them something enjoyable and inspiring in return.”