Baseball

Say Hey: Why Willie Mays’ name will now be connected to championship honors

Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays, left, receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, from President Barack Obama at the White House on Nov. 24, 2015. Mays now has an award with his name on it: the World Series MVP.
Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays, left, receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian award, from President Barack Obama at the White House on Nov. 24, 2015. Mays now has an award with his name on it: the World Series MVP. Associated Press file

On this date 63 years ago, Willie Mays made one of the most memorable catches in baseball history.

While sprinting toward the center field wall at New York’s Polo Grounds, the Say Hey Kid, with his back still to the infield, hauled in a ball hit by Vic Wertz of the Cleveland Indians during Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. It’s simply known as “The Catch” around baseball, and it helped the New York Giants sweep the Indians for the title.

Mays, who played the majority of his 22-year career with the Giants organization in both New York and San Francisco, was honored Friday on the anniversary of that play by having his name on the award for the World Series’ Most Valuable Player.

“I’d like to thank Commissioner Rob Manfred and his team at Major League Baseball for honoring me with this recognition,” Mays said in a statement released by The Associated Press. “Baseball has always taken care of me, and for that I am grateful. I think it’s just a wonderful thing to know that at 86 years of age, I can still give something back to the game. I am proud to lend my name to this important award. What a day this has been!”

Mays didn’t win the World Series MVP that year because baseball didn’t give that award until the next season.

Mays played in two more World Series in his career: in 1962, the Giants’ first appearance since their 1958 move to San Francisco; and in 1973 with the New York Mets. Both were losses.

Still, the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year was a two-time N.L. MVP and 12-time Gold Glover who played in 24 All-Star Games (two games each year between 1959-62) en route to reaching the Hall of Fame.

“Major League Baseball is thrilled to honor Willie Mays on our game’s biggest stage and in a manner that befits his many contributions to the sport,” Manfred said in a statement, according to the Giants’ website. “Since making ‘The Catch’ on Sept. 29, 1954, Willie has been a part of World Series history. This annual recognition will forever celebrate the life and career of a legend of the national pastime.”

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