Why Willie Mays was the best baseball player of all time, plus the Oilers' big night

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While You Were Sleeping: The Oilers keep fighting

Well, at least we didn’t have a title-clinching blowout for a second straight night. On Edmonton’s season-saving win in Florida last night, quickly:

  • There is moxie, and then there is going on the road, down 3-1 in the Stanley Cup Final and winning 5-3 when you had every chance to give away a championship. The Oilers took a big lead early, but the Panthers still could’ve clinched late, down 4-3 with just minutes remaining.
  • Connor McDavid was spectacular (two goals last night), but we should give him particular props for staying level after this mind-blowing save from Matthew Tkachuk on an empty net with the game on the line:

McDavid drilled the rebound home to put the game out of reach. Almost unfair. But it makes for a great series.

Game 6 is Friday in Edmonton, which is incredible after the Panthers were ahead 3-0 in this series.

In Memoriam: Willie Mays, 1931-2024

It’s hard to even find a place to start with Willie Mays, the “Say Hey Kid,” who died yesterday at 93 years old. That’s a good thing. Even to me, a 34-year-old who never saw him play live, he feels like everything to the game of baseball.

A few thoughts on my GOAT:

  • On paper, it’s highly possible to argue that he was the best to ever play the game. There’s more to life than statistics, but his tally stands as a pièce de résistance in the digital museum that is Baseball-Reference. Only a tiny handful of players like Barry Bonds, whose career is still tainted by steroid allegations, can boast comparable artwork. It’s fitting that Bonds was Mays’ godson, too.
  • Outside of the statistics? Mays is an even clearer No. 1 candidate. He retired more than 50 years ago, yet everyone still knows his cultural impact, perhaps surpassed only by Babe Ruth’s. The Giants, whose uniform Mays wore for 21 of his 23 major-league seasons, will coincidentally play a game tomorrow at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Ala., the place where he played in the Negro Leagues. Talk about legacy.
  • And yet there is still so much more. The way he carried himself, with his personality shining through at all moments, made fans of even opponents. He made it cool to like baseball. He made baseball fun. There is an indelible image of him playing stickball in the streets of Harlem while he was a major leaguer. To many, nothing embodies Mays more.

Make sure to read Daniel Brown’s excellent obituary, which I thought captured the uncapturable. We also have a roundup of important figures reacting to Mays’ death here. To say this man was beloved is an understatement.

A final word: It’s amazing to realize the play simply known as “The Catch” is 50 years old and still carries that title, even after all the incredible catches across sports in the years since. It came in the World Series, too.

And it makes for a great GIF:


News to Know

No. 2 pick Brink injures knee
Los Angeles Sparks rookie Cameron Brink had to be carried off the floor last night because of a knee injury in the first quarter of the Sparks’ 79-70 loss to the Sun. It’s a potentially brutal turn for L.A., which has now lost four straight, and for the 22-year-old Brink, who has already become a bright spot for the league. Keep an eye on our full report for updates.

Robot umps are canceled?
Major League Baseball is scaling back its use of the automatic ball-strike system in Triple A, which has utilized ABS for three games a week since last season. Instead, ABS will only be used as part of a challenge system in which teams can protest a few single ball-strike calls per game. Your robot ump dreams of the future might be on hold, and as we reported back in August, the system actually pretty unpopular among players and coaches.

More news

Offseason Fails? Tsk tsk, Bills and Cowboys

Mike Jones published a list of NFL offseason winners and losers yesterday and, while teams like the Bears, Commanders and Lions deserve our polite applause, I instead would like to be messy. 

Let’s grill some losers: 

  • Are the Bills lagging behind? Josh Allen remains an elite quarterback in his prime, but simply inserting rookie Keon Coleman into the Stefon Diggs spot — no matter how toxic the Diggs relationship had become in Buffalo — isn’t a 1:1 substitution, at least not yet. Buffalo also lost a lot on defense. Addition by subtraction? I don’t believe it yet, especially as the AFC gets better around them.
  • Again, what are the Cowboys doing? Dallas has already lost plenty this offseason, including running back Tony Pollard. They brought back a past-his-prime Ezekiel Elliott and … nothing else. They also still need to pay Dak Prescott and CeeDee Lamb soon. This soup smells rotten. 

You know who I have no idea about? The Eagles. We all assume this team will be great again, but let’s not forget they went 1-6 after November last year. Woof.

Other bummers: Panthers, Jaguars and even the 49ers. Read why on the full list here.

Watch This Game

Euros: Scotland vs. Switzerland
3 p.m. ET on FOX
These two had opposite openers, but oddsmakers still think this will be tight. It’s likely the best match of the afternoon. Flip it on, and then head over to the Totally Football Channel for our live coverage. 

MLB: Orioles at Yankees
7:05 p.m. ET on MLB Network
These are the two best teams in the American League right now, and the Yanks get Gerrit Cole back tonight. This will be on in the Branch household. 

Get tickets to games like these here.

Pulse Picks

Meet Joey Slackman, who might be the most interesting defensive lineman in America. He started his college career as a wrestler, and now he’s an NFL DL prospect. His story is a must-read

Tim Cato has a great story on Luka Dončić, who has now failed at the highest level — and must learn from it

Jim Bowden has five trades he’d like to see before the MLB trade deadline, including a couple of blockbusters. 

New MLB Power Rankings are up. Watch out for those Diamondbacks.

Just like in the NBA, the NHL’s offseason is already underway. We have 12 players to monitor ahead of the buyout window opening later this week. 

Cricket is America’s new favorite sport. But, uh, what does everything mean? A googly? Cow corner? The answers you seek are here

What was that “wolf” celebration Jude Bellingham pulled out earlier this week at Euros? Dan Sheldon explains. 

I loved David O’Brien’s story on Atlanta’s Grant Holmes, who just made his MLB debut after a decade in the minors. Easy to root for this guy. 

Most-clicked in the newsletter yesterday: Our Copa America hub. Don’t let the Euros distract you too much from the coming fun on this side of the planet. 

Most-read on the website yesterday: The latest edition of our Transfer Dealsheet. The market is already ablaze.

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(Photo: Malcolm Emmons / USA Today)

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