"I don't make history. I catch fly balls."
Actually, Willie Mays did both. When Willie Mays joined the New York Giants in 1951, black players were still a rarity in the major leagues. Before Willie Mays, the typical baseball scout's report on a talented black player would mention the player's color first, his ability second. When scouts described young Willie Mays, they mentioned his remarkable skills first.
For 22 seasons, Mays astonished fans and fellow players with his hitting, his running and his unsurpassed fielding. As sportswriter Arthur Daley put it, he "could do everything and do it better than anyone else, (and) with a joyous grace." In the 1950s and '60s, fans couldn't get enough of Willie Mays. In the first flush of his fame and popularity, he would get up early to play stickball in the street with the worshipful children who gathered in front of his Harlem boarding house.
Fans argue to this day about which was the greatest of his many spectacular catches. One thing all baseball lovers agree on: Willie Mays was one of the most versatile, virtuosic players of all time.