Of the many Willie Mays tributes I read through today I, unsurprisingly, thought Ray Ratto’s at Defector was the best. 

Willie Mays, who died Tuesday at the richly merited old age of 93, was baseball itself, more than anyone else ever connected with the game. Not just the best player, which he was. Not just the most joyful great player, which he also was. Not only the most extravagantly gifted of all the five-tool players that played during the richest era in the game’s history, although he absolutely was that as well. He was baseball, period, full stop. 

Born in 1984, I never had the pleasure of watching Willie Mays play. As a lifelong, die-hard fan of the Pittsburgh Pirates, if given the opportunity to watch any player from the past I would choose Roberto Clemente. But there’s no doubt that Willie Mays would be the undisputed top choice among players who did not play for the Pirates. 

Here’s Ratto again. 

Mays was there at the moment when talent replaced race as the sport’s prime directive, when even the most recalcitrant segregationist owners finally found the time and financial inclination to teach their scouts color blindness; when the sport finally became what it could be, Willie Mays was something very like the living fulfillment of that promise.