Why Willie Mays was given the nickname ‘Say Hey Kid’

Willie Mays, the iconic Hall of Fame outfielder who graced the fields for the Giants and Mets over a remarkable 23-year MLB career, passed away on Tuesday at the ripe age of 93.

Players, fans, and sports pundits are fondly reminiscing about the breathtaking highlights of his storied life. Mays wasn’t just about making jaw-dropping plays on the diamond; he was instrumental in paving the way for the acceptance of Black athletes in baseball and American culture at large.

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In a touching moment back in 2009, Barack Obama told Mays that without trailblazers like him and Jackie Robinson, “I’m not sure that I would get elected to the White House.”

Willie Mays’ influence extends far beyond the baseball field, ensuring his legacy endures as he transitioned from the Negro Leagues to the MLB in 1951.

He kicked off his career with the New York Giants, a team that would eventually migrate west to San Francisco. During his rookie season, he earned a moniker that has become one of the most famous nicknames in sports history, a testament to his enduring legacy even after seven decades.

 

Why is Willie Mays called the ‘Say Hey Kid?’

Willie Mays, famously known as the “Say Hey Kid,” earned his iconic nickname during his rookie season with the New York Giants in 1951. The credit goes to Barney Kremenko, a sportswriter for the New York Journal-American.

Mays had a habit of saying, “say who, say what, say where, say hey,” when he couldn’t remember someone’s name early in his career. Kremenko, seeing a golden opportunity, dubbed him the “Say Hey Kid” in his columns, and the nickname stuck like glue.

“Say hey” was Mays’ go-to greeting. When he was new to the league and couldn’t recall everyone’s names, he’d simply say, “say hey,” leading to one of the most beloved monikers in sports history.

As Mays recounted, “When I broke in, I didn’t know many people by name. So I would just say, ‘Say hey,’ and the writers picked that up.”

The “Say Hey Kid” nickname didn’t just stay on the field—it became immortalized in pop culture. The Treniers’ 1954 hit “Say Hey (The Willie Mays Song)” celebrated his persona, with Mays himself even joining in on the recording.

There was also a charming TV movie titled “Willie Mays and the Say Hey Kid,” which aired in 1972. In this animated short, Mays voiced himself, helping a mischievous orphan girl while an angel ensures the Giants win the NL pennant.

From a sports column to a song and a TV movie, “The Say Hey Kid” lives on as a testament to Willie Mays’ legendary status both on and off the baseball field.