Mays a part of Giants' Negro Leagues legacy

August 16th, 2020

SAN FRANCISCO -- The legacy of the Negro Leagues is felt all around Oracle Park.

The ballpark is located at 24 Willie Mays Plaza and features a towering statue of the Say Hey Kid, who began his professional baseball career in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Black Barons at 16.

“I played in the Negro Leagues just a few years,” Mays told author John Shea in his memoir “24: Life Stories and Lessons from the Say Hey Kid.” “I thought it was just like the Majors. We had guys good enough to play anywhere. My teammates from the Birmingham Black Barons were really the ones who made me understand about life. We played at a time baseball was becoming open to everybody, so we were playing for a generation of players who were held back. We had a lot to play for, not just us. They were glad I made it.”

Mays and Hank Aaron are the last living Hall of Famers to come out of the Negro Leagues, which were founded in 1920 by Rube Foster. The Giants joined Major League Baseball in celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Negro Leagues on Sunday, wearing commemorative patches on their uniforms and playing “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which is known as the Black national anthem, prior to their series finale against the A’s.

The Giants also placed cardboard cutouts of several prominent Negro Leagues stars around the ballpark, including Foster, Biz Mackey, Oscar Charleston, Cool Papa Bell, Wilbur Rogan and Martín Dihigo.

Cutouts of Mays, Hall of Famer Monte Irvin, who starred in the Negro Leagues before integrating the New York Giants along with Hank Thompson in 1949, and Toni Stone, who played for the San Francisco Sea Lions before becoming the first woman to play professional baseball with the Negro Leagues’ Indianapolis Clowns in 1953, were placed in the “VIP” seats at the front row of section 115.