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>  News Releases >   2007 >   April

Willie Howard Mays, Jr.(Doctor of Humane Letters)

Posted 04/19/07 • Roland Adams (603) 646-3661

Biographical background on 2007 Dartmouth honorary degree recipients

Erich Kunzel '57
Willie Mays (Photo courtesy ©S.F. Giants)

Willie Mays is considered by experts to be one of the greatest baseball players ever. During 22 seasons of major league play, Mays demonstrated all-around excellence and versatility, performing amazing feats both at the plate and in the outfield. Thirty-years after Mays' last season as a player, he still holds the all-time record for putouts by an outfielder, with a career total of 7095, and has the fourth-highest career total of home runs (660). He was named Most Valuable Player twice and won the Gold Glove Award (for superior individual fielding) 12 times, the most for an outfielder. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, the first year he was eligible; and he was ranked by The Sporting News as the second greatest baseball player of the 20th century (the first was Babe Ruth) and eighth in ESPN's ranking of the century's best athletes in any sport.

Born in Westfield, Alabama, a small town outside of Birmingham, Mays was the son of a mother who had been a star in high school track and basketball, and father who played on the team sponsored by his employer, a steel mill. Young Mays attended his father's games, sitting in the dugout and serving as batboy, thus absorbing the game's strategy at an early age. By age 14, Mays was playing semi-pro ball, and, while still in high school, was recruited to the Birmingham Black Barons, a team in the Negro Leagues, the top level of baseball then open to African-Americans.

At age 20, in 1950, Mays was hired by the New York Giants as their starting center fielder. That year—only the team's second season of racial integration—Mays hit 20 home runs, batted in 68 runs, wowed fans with his ability in the outfield, and helped the Giants win the National League pennant, earning himself the title of Rookie of the Year.

Mays left professional baseball to serve in the U.S. Army from 1952-53. In 1954, his first full season back in baseball, he racked up 41 home runs and achieved a batting average of .345, and the Giants went to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians. In the first game of the series, Mays performed the feat that came to be known simply as "The Catch": an over-the-head catch of a 462-foot drive that had been destined to reap multiple runs for Cleveland. The Giants went on to win the game and the series.

Mays stayed with the Giants through the team's 1957 move to San Francisco, playing for the team until 1972, when he went to the New York Mets for what would be his final season. After retiring from play, Mays joined the Giants' management, where he continues to serve as a special assistant to the president. He is also the spokesperson for HealthSpring, a health maintenance organization for people with Medicare.

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