Willie Mays, 1931-2024: Giants legend and baseball Hall of Famer dies at 93

The man deemed by many to be the greatest baseball player to have ever lived, a player more deeply ingrained in San Francisco Giants history than any other, died Tuesday at the age 93, days before his formative club was set to honor him in his hometown.

Willie Mays is dead. He passed away peacefully, according to the Giants, who announced the news in the fifth inning of their game against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field, where Mays played more games than any setting besides Candlestick Park and the Polo Grounds.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” said his son, Michael Mays, in a release from the club. “I want to thank you all from the bottom of my broken heart for the unwavering love you have shown him over the years. You have been his life’s blood.”

Mays, who followed the Giants from New York to San Francisco and played 21 of his 23 major-league seasons for the organization, was inducted to the Hall of Fame the first time he appeared on the ballot in 1979 and has since kept strong ties to the organization, making frequent visits to spring training, Candlestick Park and Oracle Park.

The sports cover of The Sacramento Bee on Sunday, July 19, 1970, a day after Giants slugger Willie Mays made his 3,000th career hit. The Hall of Famer center fielder and a slugging icon died Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the age of 93, the Giants organization announced.
The sports cover of The Sacramento Bee on Sunday, July 19, 1970, a day after Giants slugger Willie Mays made his 3,000th career hit. The Hall of Famer center fielder and a slugging icon died Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the age of 93, the Giants organization announced.
New York Giants outfielder Willie Mays runs to the end of the field at the Polo Grounds in New York to complete “The Catch,” an improbable over-the-shoulder catch of a deep-fly ball hit by Cleveland Indians batter Vic Werts to keep Game 1 of the 1954 World Series tied at 2-2. The Giants won the game 5-2 in 10 innings and swept the series.
New York Giants outfielder Willie Mays runs to the end of the field at the Polo Grounds in New York to complete “The Catch,” an improbable over-the-shoulder catch of a deep-fly ball hit by Cleveland Indians batter Vic Werts to keep Game 1 of the 1954 World Series tied at 2-2. The Giants won the game 5-2 in 10 innings and swept the series.
Giant legend Willie Mays tips his cap during pre-game introductions at Game 1 of the 2012 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. The Hall of Famer center fielder and a slugging icon died Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the age of 93, the Giants organization announced.
Giant legend Willie Mays tips his cap during pre-game introductions at Game 1 of the 2012 World Series between the San Francisco Giants and the Detroit Tigers at AT&T Park in San Francisco, California. The Hall of Famer center fielder and a slugging icon died Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the age of 93, the Giants organization announced.


“Today we have lost a true legend,” Giants Chairman Greg Johnson said in a statement. “In the pantheon of baseball greats, Willie Mays’ combination of tremendous talent, keen intellect, showmanship, and boundless joy set him apart. A 24-time All-Star, the Say Hey Kid is the ultimate Forever Giant. He had a profound influence not only on the game of baseball, but on the fabric of America. He was an inspiration and a hero who will be forever remembered and deeply missed.”

Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Mays made his professional debut at 17 years old in 1948 for the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Southern League, where he played for three seasons before the Giants purchased his contract in 1950 and he went on to win Rookie of the Year in 1951.

Citing his health, Mays said earlier this week that he wasn’t going to be able to make it to Birmingham for the Giants’ game at Rickwood Field but that “Rickwood’s been part of my life for all my life. Since I was a kid.

“It was just ‘around the corner there’ from Fairfield (where Mays grew up) and it felt like it had been there forever. Like a church. The first big thing I ever put my mind to was to play at Rickwood Field. It wasn’t a dream. It was something I was going to do. …

“I’m glad that the Giants, Cardinals and MLB are doing this, letting everyone see pro ball at Rickwood Field. Good to remind people of all the great ball that has been played there, and all the player. All these years and it is still here. So am I. How about that?”

Giants legend Willie Mays tosses ball to fans during the pre-game at the 2007 All-Star Game at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The Hall of Famer center fielder and a slugging icon died Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the age of 93, the Giants organization announced.
Giants legend Willie Mays tosses ball to fans during the pre-game at the 2007 All-Star Game at AT&T Park in San Francisco. The Hall of Famer center fielder and a slugging icon died Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the age of 93, the Giants organization announced.

His 660 home runs ranked third all-time until 2003, when his godson, Barry Bonds, passed him, and inspired countless young fans with his power swing, his tremendous defense and his exuberance for the game, including Giants manager and Bay Area native Bob Melvin.

“I fell in love with baseball because of Willie, plain and simple,” said Giants President and Chief Executive Officer Larry Baer. “My childhood was defined by going to Candlestick with my dad, watching Willie patrol centerfield with grace and the ultimate athleticism. Over the past 30 years, working with Willie, and seeing firsthand his zest for life and unbridled passion for giving to young players and kids, has been one of the joys of my life.”

Giants TV announcer Jon Miller read the team’s statement as they faced the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

“For many, many years — Willie Mays broke (into the league) in 1951 — and he played games here. He’s had great moments here,” Miller said on the NBC Sports Bay Area telecast while continuing to call play-by-play in the fifth inning. “And Willie Mays’ name has been much on our minds with the Giants’ special game the night after tomorrow coming up in Birmingham, Alabama, where Willie began his brilliant, fabled career.”

Giants great Willie May, who played for the team for 20 season and is considered the greatest baseball player of all time, gets ready to throw a ball before the start of a Sept. 30, 1999, game in San Francisco. The Hall of Famer center fielder and a slugging icon died Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the age of 93, the Giants organization announced.
Giants great Willie May, who played for the team for 20 season and is considered the greatest baseball player of all time, gets ready to throw a ball before the start of a Sept. 30, 1999, game in San Francisco. The Hall of Famer center fielder and a slugging icon died Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the age of 93, the Giants organization announced.
San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds cries at the podium near the pitching mound with his godfather, Willie Mays, during a post-game ceremony after Bonds hit his 71st and 72nd home runs of the season against the Los Angeles Dodgers at then Pacific Bell Park on Oct. 5, 2001. The Hall of Famer center fielder and a slugging icon died Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the age of 93, the Giants organization announced.
The sports cover of The Sacramento Bee on Thursday, May 5, 1966, the day after Giants slugger Willie Mays hit his 512th home run in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Mays, widely considered the greatest baseball player of all time, hit 660 home runs in a career that spanned more than two decades. The Hall of Famer center fielder and a slugging icon died Tuesday, June 18, 2024, at the age of 93, the Giants organization announced.