(NEW YORK) — Willie Mays, widely considered to be one of the greatest baseball players in the history of the game, has died at 93.

“It is with great sadness that we announce that San Francisco Giants Legend and Hall of Famer Willie Mays passed away peacefully this afternoon at the age of 93,” the San Francisco Giants posted in a message on X announcing the news on behalf of Mays’ family.

In his own statement, Willie Mays’ son, Michael Mays, offered his gratitude for fans’ “unwavering love” for his father.

“My father has passed away peacefully and among loved ones,” Michael Mays said in his statement. “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.”

From his start in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Black Barons to winning rookie of the year with the New York Giants in 1951 and through 24 All-Star Game appearances, including one in his final season, Mays dazzled fans with his combination of power, speed and joy on the field. He was the personification of a “five-tool” player, excelling at the five basic skills of baseball: throwing, fielding, power-hitting, hitting for average, and base running.

Known as “the Say Hey Kid” — the moniker’s origin has remained ambiguous — Willie Howard Mays Jr. was born in Westfield, Alabama, on May 6, 1931. He was a star athlete in many sports in high school and played with the Black Barons starting at 16 years old. He signed with Major League Baseball’s New York Giants after high school graduation two years later and won Rookie of the Year his first season. Mays was named the National League MVP twice, in 1954 and 1965, and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.

Mays called it a career after 22 seasons with 660 home runs, which was the third-highest of all-time when he retired in 1973, and posted a career batting average of .301. He finished with 2,062 runs scored, 1,323 extra-base hits, 6,066 total bases and 136.6 offensive wins above replacement — all in the top 10 of all-time.

“The Hall of Fame is something that you play baseball for,” Mays said in an interview with the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. “You start off playing and you say to yourself, ‘if you get to the Hall of Fame you got good numbers.’ … To me, to be a part of the Hall of Fame and be a part of all the guys that come through it, it’s tremendous.”

Despite being one of the greatest hitters of all-time, Mays — also one of the sport’s greatest defensive outfielders — will always be remembered for one of baseball’s greatest catches.

The Giants were playing the Cleveland Indians in game one of the 1954 World Series when Mays made a running, over-the-shoulder basket catch on a deep fly ball hammered by Cleveland’s Vic Wertz into the New York City Polo Grounds’ immense center field.

The catch in the eighth inning with two runners on base preserved a 2-2 score and allowed the Giants to ultimately win in extra innings. It also instantly became seared in the minds of baseball fans. Now known simply as “The Catch,” its legacy has lived on in references made after thousands of over-the-shoulder catches since.

Though many baseball historians believe “The Catch” is the best defensive baseball play ever, Mays was always humble about it.

“When Vic hit the ball to center field, I never was worried about catching the ball,” Mays told MLB Network in 2010. “I was worried about getting the ball back into the infield. And I’m saying to myself, ‘I gotta get this ball back in the infield or Larry [Doby]’s gonna score.”

But, Mays said, “As the ball was coming down, I knew I had the ball.”

Mays won 12 career Gold Glove awards for exceptional fielding, one each season from 1957 to 1968. He also remained in the top five in career home runs from 1965 to 2020.

Mays would’ve finished with even more records had he not missed most of 1952 and all of 1953 due to military service. He was drafted in the Army in 1951, during the Korean War, but didn’t see combat overseas, instead spending most of his service at Fort Eustis in Virginia.

Mays was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor, by President Barack Obama in 2015. Perhaps more fitting, MLB in 2017 — 63 years after ‘”The Catch” — renamed the World Series MVP Award to the Willie Mays World Series MVP Award.

Mays was set to be honored in a game at historic Rickwood Field in Alabama, the home of the Black Barons on Thursday, when his former team, the San Francisco Giants, take on the St. Louis Cardinals.

“I’m not able to get to Birmingham this year but will follow the game back here in the Bay Area,” Mays said in a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle. “My heart will be with all of you who are honoring the Negro League ballplayers, who should always be remembered, including all my teammates on the Black Barons.”

Mays was married twice, the second time in 1971 to wife May Louise Mays. The two remained together until her death in 2013.

Giants Chairman Greg Johnson addressed Mays’ “profound influence” on America and baseball.

“Today we have lost a true legend” Johnson’s statement read. “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,” Johnson’s statement continued. “He was an inspiration and a hero who will be forever remembered and deeply missed.”

Major League Baseball shared a message on X on Tuesday, saying the organization was “heartbroken.”

“We are heartbroken to learn of the passing of Hall of Famer Willie Mays, one of the most exciting all-around players in the history of our sport,” the MLB post read.

Copyright © 2024, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.