Starting out with the Chatanooga Choo-Choos, a team in the minor league division of the Negro Leagues, Willie Mays soon switched to the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. Jackie Robinson had already trailblazed the way for black players to enter Major League Baseball. However, many teams were still wary. May was attracting attention and many scouts to the Black Barons.
The New York Giants eventually signed him in 1950, although initially he played for affiliated class-B teams. He was the 1951 rookie of the year, immediately helping the Giants to a pennant win and a World Series against the New York Yankees. At that World Series, which the Giants lost 4 games to 2, he was part of the first all-black outfield in the major leagues with Henry Thompson and Monte Irvin.
In 1952 he was drafted by the Army to go serve in the Korean War. He returned in time to help win the pennant and the World Series with the 1954 Giants, which is considered one of the best teams ever assembled.
He made the cover of Time Magazine and was the first man to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in one season, which he did twice. Not surprisingly, he was also the first player to steal 200 bases and hit 200 homers. He tied a record with 24 appearances in the All-Star Game.
After playing with the Giants once they moved to San Francisco, for his last two season in 1972 and 1973 he played for the New York Mets. He was elected into the Hall of Fame upon eligibility. With 660 career home runs, he still holds the fourth highest record for home runs.
The Giants retired his number 24 and to this day every May 24th in San Francisco is Willie Mays Day.
Photo courtesy of Hard Road to Glory, Ocania Chalk