Beyond the "Say Hey Kid": Willie Mays' Untold Story of Love and Loss

Willie Mays was one of the greatest players in Major League Baseball has ever seen. Yet, despite his talent and fame, he faced something many other families face: a loved one with Alzheimer's.

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Beyond the "Say Hey Kid": Willie Mays' Untold Story of Love and Loss
4 Min Read June 20th, 2024

Baseball and the world lost a legend when Willie Mays died at 93. His name was synonymous with dazzling catches, effortless power swings, and a record-breaking career, and he held a secret story close to his heart. Beyond the iconic baseball legend, there was a fiercely devoted husband facing the heartbreaking reality of Alzheimer's disease.

Willie Mays' baseball career was a masterclass in athletic excellence. Nicknamed the "Say Hey Kid" for his youthful exuberance, he burst onto the scene in the 1950s with the New York Giants. A five-tool player with a rare blend of power, speed, and defensive prowess, Mays collected an impressive trophy case. He smashed 660 home runs, racked up over 3,200 hits, and earned a staggering 12 Gold Gloves for his outfield defense.

Baseball of Famer, the late Hank Aaron once said Mays was "simply the most exciting player" he ever saw.

His combination of power, speed, and grace in the outfield was unmatched. He wasn't just a great player; he was an ambassador for the game, inspiring generations of young fans, including myself.

Mays' impact transcended individual accolades. He was a cornerstone of the iconic New York Giants teams that won the World Series in 1954 and 1958, forever etching his name in the hearts of New York baseball fans.

Retirement Still Meant Baseball

After his playing days ended in 1974, Mays wasn't ready to completely step away from the game. He transitioned into a coaching role with the New York Mets, the team that had acquired him late in his career.

He later returned to the San Francisco Giants as a special assistant, the franchise he called home for most of his career. Mays remained a revered figure in the baseball world. He was often seen at games and events, charming fans and players alike with his infectious personality and enduring love for the game.

He even received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, when President Obama said the award was a testament to his impact on American culture and sports history.

His quiet example while excelling on one of America's biggest stages helped carry forward the banner of civil rights. It's because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for president.

Mae Louise Allen

In 1961, Mays' life intersected with Mae Louise Allen, a chance encounter that blossomed into a 41-year marriage. Their love story unfolded away from the spotlight, but it was a love that would be tested in unimaginable ways.

In 2008, Mae Louise was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. This progressive neurological condition slowly steals memories and cognitive function from so many people around the world.

Mays, known for his gregarious personality and larger-than-life presence, retreated inward to face this challenge. Determined to provide the best possible care for his wife, he made a decision that surprised many.

Seeking Help for Care

Mays quietly approached the San Francisco Giants, the team where he built his legacy. He didn't ask for additional compensation for himself; his request was an emotional one. He wanted his lifetime contract extended – not for his remaining years, but for Mae Louise's. This act ensured his wife would continue to receive financial security even if he were to pass away before her.

The Giants readily agreed, recognizing Mays' unwavering commitment and loyalty over the decades. This selfless move by a sports icon exposed the harsh reality of a disease that affects millions of families.

Caring for a loved one with Alzheimer's is a demanding task, both emotionally and physically. The Alzheimer's Association estimates that over 18 million Americans are currently caregivers for someone with Alzheimer's or dementia. These caregivers face a daily battle, managing medications, daily routines, and the emotional toll of watching their loved ones fade away.

Willie Mays' story extends far beyond the baseball diamond. It's a testament to the unwavering power of love and the lengths we go to for those closest to us. While his on-field achievements are a permanent fixture in baseball history, his steadfast devotion to his wife in the face of Alzheimer's reveals a different kind of strength – the quiet strength of human compassion and love in the face of adversity.

Mays Not Alone

Millions of American families, like Willie and Mae, confront the rising tide of dementia, a condition that progressively steals a loved one's memory and cognitive abilities. Alzheimer's Association estimates that over 10 million Americans currently live with dementia. That number is projected to balloon in the coming years due to the aging population. This surge translates to a growing crisis for families who often find themselves thrust into the demanding role of caregiver.

Health insurance and Medicare will only pay for short-term skilled care, so unless someone has Long-Term Care Insurance or qualifies for Medicaid because of limited financial resources, families face a major crisis.

Traditionally, families have borne the brunt of dementia care. Spouses, adult children, and even grandchildren assist with daily tasks like bathing, dressing, and medication management. This care can be a physically and emotionally draining experience, often leading to social isolation and financial strain for caregivers who may have to reduce work hours or leave the workforce entirely.

The high cost of formal dementia care further complicates the situation. In-home care can run tens of thousands of dollars annually, while placement in a specialized memory care facility can easily exceed that amount. Unfortunately, many families lack the financial resources to afford these options, leaving them to grapple with the difficult choice of becoming primary caregivers or witnessing their loved one placed in a Medicaid facility, often far from their familiar surroundings.

Exploring Long-Term Care Insurance options before you get older, and your health declines, will help your family in the future. It is hard to imagine something like Alzheimer's happening to you or someone you love, but aging is a reality, and being prepared will ease the burden and the financial stress on those you love.

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About the Author

An LTC News author focusing on long-term care and aging.

LTC News Contributor James Kelly

James Kelly

Contributor since August 21st, 2017

Editor's Note

Your retirement years can bring a variety of challenges. Dementia can strike anyone, regardless of background or wealth. Even those who remain sharp mentally may face physical limitations that make daily living difficult.

These challenges can place a tremendous burden on loved ones. Imagine your spouse struggling to manage medications or your children juggling work and caring for you full-time. Long-term care needs can quickly deplete savings and force difficult decisions. Wouldn't you rather ensure your dignity and independence, even if you require extra help?

Adding a Long-Term Care Insurance policy to your retirement plan is a proactive step towards a secure future. It offers peace of mind, knowing you'll have access to quality care in the comfort of your home or a facility without draining your retirement funds or becoming a financial strain on your family. Having an LTC policy allows everyone to focus on quality time together, not the stress of managing your care.

Most people acquire LTC Insurance in their 40s or 50s when premiums are lower and their health is better, but if you have good health, you can find affordable options in your 60s and beyond.

Each insurance company has its own underwriting guidelines, so speak with a qualified LTC Insurance specialist who works with all the top-rate insurance companies to find the right plan for you.

The specialist will provide accurate quotes from all the top insurance companies that offer long-term care solutions, enabling you to make the right decision.

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