The Spark

the Voice of
The Communist League of Revolutionary Workers–Internationalist

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.”
— Karl Marx

Willie Mays:
One of the Greatest Ballplayers

Jul 1, 2024

Willie Mays, who died recently, was certainly one of the greatest baseball players ever. It was a joy to watch his grace, skill and athleticism. Some considered him the best all-around player ever to play in the Major Leagues for his hitting and his fielding. Mays hit 660 home runs, won the Gold Glove 12 times for his fielding, and made the All-Star team 24 times.

Mays was born near Birmingham, Alabama and grew up in the Jim Crow era. He played his first two seasons of professional baseball in the Negro Leagues before he signed with the Major Leagues in 1950, 3 years after Jackie Robinson became the first black player in the Major Leagues.

Mays faced some of the same racism that Robinson and the other first black baseball players encountered. Black players were often not allowed to stay in the same hotels as white players. Later in his career, Mays was told he could not buy a house in a white neighborhood in San Francisco.

Mays did get to play most of his career in the Major Leagues, while black players who were born earlier were denied that opportunity. Players like Josh Gibson, Satchell Paige and Buck Leonard were just as great as Mays, but were kept out of the Major Leagues for most or all of their careers.

The skill and ability of players in the Negro Leagues certainly matched or exceeded that of the players in the all-white Major Leagues. But the racism of the society kept the black players and white players from playing together and/or competing against each other. Racism deprived the fans of enjoying the competition of the best combined talents. Baseball and other sports were mostly segregated until the protests of the Civil Rights movements forced changes.

A few weeks before Mays died, Major League baseball announced that the records and statistics of the Negro League players would be recognized and added to the official record books of the Major Leagues. It was recognition that was long overdue.