July 17, 2024

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Giants Celebrate Willie Mays’ Life With Star-Studded Gala – NBC Sports Bay Area & California

Giants Celebrate Willie Mays’ Life With Star-Studded Gala – NBC Sports Bay Area & California

SAN FRANCISCO — The seats began to fill up shortly after 3 p.m. Monday. Dozens of rows were arranged behind and around the court at Oracle Field, and under the bright sun, they were filled with Hall of Famers, New York Giants executives, former managers, former players, members of the media, mayors and even the club president.

Three hours later, as the sun set, everyone in the audience was sheltered by shade. But center field was still in the sun, and the number 24, at second base, was still brightly lit. Barry Bonds looked at the number 24 and the outfield where he had once played and summed up a moving celebration.

“Thank you, Willie,” he said, choking up. “Thank you.”

Three weeks after Willie Mays’ death, a large crowd gathered at Oracle Park to celebrate his life. It was a true celebration filled with emotional stories but also plenty of funny anecdotes. It was a fitting farewell to a man who played and lived with so much joy.

The event drew about 4,500 fans to Oracle Park, and it was no surprise that the biggest star in team history brought perhaps the greatest lineup of power players the stadium has ever seen.

Former President Bill Clinton entered the party just before the ceremony began and sat between Larry Burr and Willie Brown, one of three former San Francisco mayors in attendance. Clinton was a surprise guest, introduced by John Miller as a friend of Mays.

Clinton recalled loving the St. Louis Cardinals as a child in Arkansas, but his real passion was listening to national games on the radio, which is how he got to hear “The Catch.” Later, after leaving the White House, he became friends with Mayes and often played golf with him.

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“Willie Mays gave me the opportunity to see what true greatness means,” Clinton said. “He is a strange combination of intelligence, dedication, the will to win, and the basic humility to believe that the effort is the reward, a gift he leaves us all and one that I hope we can all share and cherish.”

Clinton said Hank Aaron once told him Mays was the best player he had ever seen, and that was the subject of almost every speech he made. No one played the game like Mays, who left a legacy that went far beyond his Hall of Fame numbers.

Felipe Alou, a former teammate of Mays, explained how his skills were the greatest he had seen in his 68 years as a player, coach and manager. Another teammate, Joe Amalfitano, said he wished he could have seen Mays play at Oracle Park.

“Perhaps the pitch in the middle right, with him in the middle of the pitch, could have been called Death Valley,” he said.

Commissioner Rob Manfred and Hall of Famer Joe Torre represented MLB, and the New York Giants were represented by dozens of former players, including recently retired Buster Posey, Hunter Pence, Sergio Romo and Javier Lopez. Reggie Jackson, Dennis Eckersley, Dave Stewart and Rickey Henderson were among the former MLB stars who also attended, along with the families of New York Giants Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCoffey and Gaylord Perry.

The program ended with a speech by Michael Mays, Willie’s son, who thanked the audience, said a prayer, and spoke passionately about his father’s work in the community, especially with children.

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“I know most of you came here to say goodbye and end your relationship, but I didn’t come here very often,” Michael Mays said. “His presence is everywhere. I’m proud that the love continues to flow for him.”

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