Willie Howard Mays, Jr. (born May 6, 1931 in Westfield, Alabama) 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.
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.
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.
- 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
- Well, gentlemen, I'll tell ya — for the first 60 feet that was a hell of a pitch.
- 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.'
- 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.