SAN FRANCISCO — The San Francisco Giants turned their idyllic waterfront park into baseball’s biggest birthday bash Friday night as the team celebrated Willie Mays turning 90 years old the day before.
Mays, baseball’s oldest living Hall of Famer, took a victory lap of sorts around Oracle Park before the Giants’ 5-4 victory over the San Diego Padres, riding in a choice white and turquoise 1956 Oldsmobile convertible and waving his cap to a cheering crowd.
The field had a massive grass etching in center field of Mays in his backswing with the words “SAY HEY 90” next to it.
“When you think the name ‘Willie Mays’ it’s almost like a mythological type of name that has the same feeling as a ‘Babe Ruth’ or a ‘Lou Gehrig,’ you know?” said Giants catcher Buster Posey, who has developed a special kinship with Mays since debuting with San Francisco in 2009.
“All of us who have been here for a while, have spent quite a good amount of time with him, and he just always, he still likes to talk the game. He wants to try to get to know the guys that are on the team. And, you know, unfortunately, we haven’t seen him for a while the last couple of years. But when he’s around, it’s usually pretty entertaining.”
Given the pandemic and last year’s shortened MLB season, it was Mays’ first visit to the Giants’ yard since 2019.
Mays’ major league career spanned from 1951 through 1973 (with a one-year break for military service in 1953) for the New York and San Francisco Giants and New York Mets. When he retired, his 660 home runs ranked third in big league history; he now ranks sixth behind his godson Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Ruth, Alex Rodriguez and Albert Pujols.
On Friday night, his career highlights — including footage of his iconic over-the-shoulder basket catch in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds — played on the stadium’s video board before the first pitch.
Both teams stood at the top of their respective dugouts to salute Mays as he drove by in the pregame ceremony.
A live video feed showing Bonds helping Mays cut a birthday cake was shown on the video board after the crowd sang “Happy Birthday” to Mays after the third inning.
From athletes to music artists to government officials, recorded birthday wishes from a multitude of Mays’ friends and admirers also were played on the video board throughout the game. From former Giants, that included Bonds, Dusty Baker, Orlando Cepeda, Jeffrey Leonard, Will Clark and Dave Dravecky, but many more from baseball sent their birthday wishes, including Derek Jeter, Rodriguez, Ken Griffey Jr., Vin Scully, former MLB commissioner Bud Selig and current commissioner Rob Manfred.
Other famous names to salute Mays included Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady; former NFL stars Ronnie Lott and Steve Young; rappers Lil Wayne and Snoop Dogg; hockey legend Wayne Gretzky; NBA Hall of Famer Magic Johnson; the Golden State Warriors’ Steve Kerr and Stephen Curry; sports broadcasters Robin Roberts and Bob Costas; California Gov. Gavin Newsom; former San Francisco mayor Willie Brown; current mayor London Breed; and former President George W. Bush.
“When somebody’s like one of the two or three best players in any sport, in the history of the sport, it’s hard not to make an impact on current players,” said Giants manager Gabe Kapler. “I just don’t think we get that much exposure to the all-time, all-time greats. And the all-time great human beings. So for those reasons, I think he resonates with current players.”
Added Posey: “I mean, honestly, the reason that people still talk about him today is just because how incredible a baseball player he was and for how long he played and, you know, his accomplishments as a baseball player will forever stand the test of time.”