Willie Mays earns Presidential Medal of Freedom

Giants legend Willie Mays has been selected to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom later this month, White House officials announced Monday.

Known as “The Say Hey Kid,” Mays, 84, was one of the first black players in Major League Baseball when he joined the New York Giants in 1951 at age 20. A prolific slugger, Mays finished his 22-year career with a .302 batting average and 660 home runs. His home run total remains the fifth-highest of all time and he was behind only Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth when he retired in 1973.

Mays was an extraordinary center fielder as well, earning 12 Gold Glove awards after the award was introduced in 1957. He is widely remembered for a spectacular running catch he made known simply as “The Catch” during Game 1 of the 1954 World Series — a series the Giants went on to sweep.

The Giants’ move from New York to San Francisco in 1958 only broadened Mays’ fame as he became a marquee player in baseball’s westward expansion. He spent most of his career with the Giants, returning to New York to play with the Mets in 1972 and 1973.

His last Major League Baseball appearance was during the 1973 World Series against the Oakland A’s, going 2-for-7 with one RBI for New York in Oakland’s 4-3 series win.

Mays was inducted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 and was such an icon for the Giants the plaza surrounding AT&T Park was named Willie Mays Plaza. He last visited the White House in June to celebrate the Giants 2014 World Series championship.

The ceremony for the Medal of Freedom award will take place at the White House on Nov. 24. New York Yankees great Yogi Berra, Mays’ manager on the Mets, will also receive a posthumous award.

Giants CEO Larry Baer said in a statement:

“On behalf of the entire Giants organization and our fans, we congratulate Willie Mays for the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which honors his accomplishments, values and military service. … As everyone knows, Willie is a national treasure and one of the greatest players in the history of baseball.”