From center field to the White House: Remembering Willie Mays

FILE - Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays, left, receives the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Barack Obama during a ceremony in the East Room of the White House Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2015, in Washington. Willie Mays, the electrifying “Say Hey Kid” whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest and most beloved players, has died. He was 93. Mays' family and the San Francisco Giants jointly announced Tuesday night, June 18, 2024, he had died earlier in the afternoon in the Bay Area.(AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)(AP/Evan Vucci)

Willie Mays is considered the best all-around baseball player of all time.

The center fielder died Tuesday at the age of 93, and has been lauded in the nation’s capital.

The “Say Hey Kid” was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by former President Barack Obama in 2015 in recognition of his contributions to country.

“We don’t have time to list all of Willie Mays’ statistics; 660 home runs, .302 lifetime batting average, the list goes on and on,” said Obama during the Nov. 24, 2015 ceremony, awarding the nation’s highest civilian honor to Mays.

“He could throw, and he could field, hit for contact, and for power, and of course, he was so fast, he could barely keep a hat on his head,” Obama said.

This was not Mays’ first trip to the White House. In 1976, he was the guest of former President Gerald Ford and his wife, Betty Ford, at a White House State Dinner held in honor of England’s Queen Elizabeth.

Mays never actually played a regular season game in D.C., although he did play in the 1962 All-Star game in Washington. That year, the Senators moved to RFK Stadium, which was then known as D.C. Stadium.

Mays had three at-bats, stole a base and was walked once during the exhibition game, where the National League defeated the American League, 3-1.

Before Major League Baseball introduced interleague play in 1997, players in different leagues could only play each other in the World Series and the All-Star game.

And while Mays played in four World Series — two were with the New York Giants, one with the San Francisco Giants, and one with the New York Mets — Washington lived up to a 1909 quote from a San Francisco columnist: “Washington: First in war, first in peace, and last in the American League.”

Before playing for the Giants, Mays began his professional career in the Negro League in 1948, while still a high school student playing with the Birmingham Black Barons.

That season, Mays played in the Negro League’s final World Series, against the Homestead Grays. Initially based in Pittsburgh, the Homestead Grays eventually played a large percentage of their games with D.C.’s Griffith Stadium as their home field, according to MLB.

However, in that final World Series — which the Grays won, 3 games to 2 — the games were played at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Kansas City and New Orleans, but not in D.C.

Tuesday, fans at Rickwood Field honored Mays during a game.

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a general assignment reporter with WTOP since 1997. He says he looks forward to coming to work every day, even though that means waking up at 3:30 a.m.

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Obit Shelley Duvall
Obit Donald Sutherland
Obit Walton
Obit Richard Sherman
Obit Dabney Coleman
Obit Alice Munro
Obit Roger Corman
Obit David Pryor
Obit-Robert MacNeil
Obit Roberto Cavalli
U.S. Rep. William Delahunt, D-Mass
Obit Chance Perdomo
Obit Louis Gossett Jr.
Obit Richard Serra
Obit Linda Bean
Italy Obit Pollini
Obit-de Brunoff
akira toriyama
Kenneth Mitchell
Japan Seiji Ozawa
Obit Carl Weathers
Obit - Chita Rivera
Obit Harry Connick Sr.
Obit Melanie
Caribbean Plane Crash
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