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Willie Mays at 90 -- He was Steph Curry, Michael Jordan, Simone Biles and Mikhail Baryshnikov - ESPN

Editor's note: Willie Mays died Tuesday at age 93. This story was originally published in 2021 on his 90th birthday.

To appreciate Willie Mays is to remember him at 20. When he joined the New York Giants in 1951, the game had never seen an athlete like him — breathtakingly graceful, the greatest combination of power, speed and defense ever to wear a major league uniform. And 70 years later, to many, he remains precisely that.

«You'd sit on the bench and watch Willie Mays,» Hall of Famer Reggie Jackson said. «It was so exciting just to watch him. People did that with Jim Brown. They did that with the acrobatics and greatness of [Michael] Jordan. It's like players today going to watch the pregame warm-ups of Steph Curry. To watch Willie warm up, to throw the ball underhand, to make a basket catch. The beauty and the grace. For the kids today, it was like watching Simone Biles. It was like watching [Mikhail] Baryshnikov. It was poetry in motion. It was so beautiful, so pretty, to watch this athlete just run on the field, catch a ball. I loved to play against Willie Mays because it meant that I got to watch Willie Mays.»

Mays was one of the three great center fielders in New York, joining the Yankees' sensational Mickey Mantle and Dodgers Hall of Famer Duke Snider. But as Mantle once said, «Well, there were the two of us… and then there was Willie.»

Ken Griffey Jr. made it even simpler.

«I call him 'The Godfather of Center Fielders,'» Junior said.

And what of those comparisons, that Griffey would be the next Mays?

«In baseball, comparisons are always made, but I didn't compare myself to him,» Griffey said. «But I also didn't not want to be compared to him, if that makes sense. You always want to be compared to the best.»