Cutch remembers Willie Mays: 'He was a pioneer for the game'

June 19th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- ’s nickname was “Pittsburgh.”

The 2018 trade that sent McCutchen from the Pirates to the Giants brought a lot of changes to the veteran outfielder. He was leaving the only organization he knew. He was going from being the face of a franchise to the other side of the country. But the change also brought some exciting possibilities, like getting to meet .

The two would talk throughout that 2018 campaign when McCutchen was a Giant. It was the “Say Hey Kid” and the team’s new outfielder, whom he called “Pittsburgh.”

“Any chance I got [to talk to him], I was just in there, man,” said McCutchen at his locker after the Pirates’ 2-1 loss to the Reds on Tuesday night. “I was just trying to [get] any words of wisdom, any ball talk. Whatever would get to me. I just tried to be around him as much as I could.”

Mays’ accolades on the field are almost too numerous to recount. Perhaps the greatest five-tool player in the history of the game, the world champion Hall of Famer hit 660 home runs, won a dozen Gold Gloves, was named to 24 All-Star teams and had well over 3,000 hits and 300 stolen bases. His legacy is being one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.

And as McCutchen sat at his locker, he learned what the baseball world had heard shortly before. Mays passed away Tuesday afternoon. He was 93 years old.

"Before there was Bonds and Griffey and all these guys, and Stargell, there was Willie Mays,” McCutchen said. “He was the guy who, before Rickey Henderson, before all these great center fielders even, there was Willie Mays. There was Willie Mays. He was a pioneer for the game.”

Mays’ style of play, amazing feats of athleticism and joyous personality made him one the most beloved players of his or any generation and a figure who transcended the sport in his playing homes of New York and San Francisco.

“Anyone who has ever come in contact with Mays for even a day is going to have a story, is going to have something,” McCutchen said.

McCutchen has stories. He recalled one instance where the Giants embarked on a long August road trip and he didn’t do much offensively. When they returned home, he saw Mays in the clubhouse.

“What’s going on, Willie?” McCutchen asked.

Mays didn’t respond, trying to figure out the voice.

“It’s Pittsburgh.”

“Ah, Pittsburgh,” Mays responded. “Well, you left to go on the road for 10 games, you had 10 home runs. You came back, still got 10 home runs.”

“I’ll never forget the disgust in his voice when he said that,” McCutchen said with a chuckle. “Kind of like, ‘Come on man, you had a whole road trip. You had 10 games. You couldn't hit one home run?’ Obviously, I laughed. There was no laugh that came out of his direction. Trying to motivate me in his way to be better.”

There were little moments, too. McCutchen never shook Mays’ hand hard enough. Mays always wanted it to be firmer, gripping McCutchen with what ‘Pittsburgh’ called his “massive hands.”

“You kind of understand in that moment the player he was and how big of a player he was,” McCutchen said. “Not just by his stature necessarily, because he wasn't the biggest guy, but he was a guy who played the game very big.”

It was a glimpse back to what made Mays a great ball player, one that was celebrated decades after his retirement and will surely continue after his passing.

“His legacy is going to live on,” McCutchen said.