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Willie Mays Biography for Kids

William Howard Mays, Jr. was born on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama. Willie’s parents were both athletic. His father played baseball on a semi-pro team at the steel mill where he worked, and his mother was a champion sprinter in school. His father taught Willie to play baseball. Willie joined the semi-pro team at his father’s mill when he was 14, and played center field with the Birmingham Black Barons in the Negro League, the major league for African American players at the time, when he was 16. He could only play in home games because his father didn’t want Willie to miss school. He was signed by the Giants right after graduation.

He played on Giant farm teams for two years. When Willie was playing in Trenton, he was the only black player on the team. He was jeered by fans because of his color, received death threats, and had to stay in a “colored-only” hotel across town from the rest of the players. Willie said that some of his white teammates would sneak in the window of his hotel room and sleep on the floor to make sure he was safe, and to let him know he was one of them. He moved up to MLB in 1951. That year, he was named “Rookie of the Year.”

In 1952, Willie was drafted into the U.S. Army. He worked as an instructor in physical training and played baseball for the Fort Eustis team. The Giants did not win the NL pennant during the two seasons Willie was in the army. In 1954, he returned to the Giants, and they won the World Series. Willie made a spectacular over-the-shoulder catch to help the Giants win the first game. The catch has gone down as one of the greatest in the history of baseball. Joe DiMaggio said Willie Mays had the greatest throwing arm in baseball. Willie had 7,095 putouts, which is the all-time record for an outfielder. Known as the “Say Hey Kid,” Mays has been called the greatest all-around baseball player because of his speed, hitting and fielding ability. He played in 24 All-Star games, had 12 Gold Glove awards, earned the Roberto Clemente Award in 1971 and was twice named the National League MVP. His career batting average was .302. He had 3,283 hits, 1,903 RBIs and 660 career home runs. He hit four HRs in one game in 1961. Mays played for the Giants until 1972, when he was traded to the New York Mets.

In 1973, Willie retired from baseball. He worked as a batting coach for the Mets and in public relations with Bally’s Resorts and Colgate-Palmolive. In 1986, Willie Mays was named to a lifetime position as a special assistant to the president of the San Francisco Giants. He enjoys playing golf and traveling. He is on the board of the Baseball Assistance Team which helps former baseball players when they have financial and medical difficulties. Barry Bonds is his godson. When Barry tied Willie’s Home Run record, Willie met Barry at home plate and passed him the ceremonial Olympic torch that Willie had carried for four blocks in San Francisco during the journey of the torch leading up to the 2002 Winter Olympics. Willie had had the torch decorated with the number 660 outlined in diamonds.

Willie was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, and his number 24 was retired by the San Francisco Giants in 1972. The address of the Giants stadium (AT&T Park) is 24 Willie Mays Plaza. There is a statue of Willie in front of the main entrance to the stadium.