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Barry Bonds, Bill Clinton remember Willie Mays at celebration of life

San Francisco Giants great Willie Mays died last month from heart failure. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI
1 of 5 | San Francisco Giants great Willie Mays died last month from heart failure. File Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo

July 9 (UPI) -- Barry Bonds and former President Bill Clinton were among several speakers at a celebration of life for the late Willie Mays, honoring the baseball icon with words of affection from the field at Oracle Park in San Francisco..

Hall of Famers Reggie Jackson, Joe Torre, Rickey Henderson and Dennis Eckersley were among those assembled. Former President Barack Obama remembered Mays through a video message played for the thousands who attended.

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"As I've contemplated on what I'd say, without crying, about my godfather tonight, there were only two words I could think of," Bonds said. "It was the same two words I've thought about my father. It was: Thank you, Willie.

"Willie, 55 years ago, you put your arms around a 5-year-old boy and said, 'Hey kid, you're coming with me.' And I knew at that moment what I wanted to be. That was a professional baseball player, like my father and Willie."

Mays died last month from heart failure. He was 93.

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"Willie Mays gave me the chance to realize what real greatness is," Clinton said.

"It's a curious combination of intelligence, dedication, the will to win and a fundamental humility to believe that the effort is the prize -- a gift he leaves us all with and that I hope we can all share and cherish for the rest of our lives."

Obama, who presented Mays with the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2015, praised the baseball legend for using his popularity to "change racial attitudes in a way that political speeches alone never could."

He said an argument could be made that Mays, who also played in the Negro Leagues, is the "greatest baseball player who ever lived."

"It made people re-examine how they viewed their fellow citizens and the imperative of true equality and helped pave the way for the civil rights revolution that would move us toward a more perfect union," Obama said. "Not many athletes can claim that kind of impact.

"In a very real sense, Willie Mays' career was one of the foundation stones that ultimately allowed someone like me to even consider running for president of the United States."

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MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, baseball legends Juan Marichal and Felipe Alou and former managers Dusty Baker and Joey Amalfitano and Mays' son, Michael Mays, also spoke at the ceremony in San Francisco.

"Willie Mays played in a transformative time in baseball," Manfred said. "He was 16 when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. He was 17 when he debuted in the Negro Leagues.

"He was just 20 when he arrived in the major leagues in 1951. Willie's remarkable ability and his love of the game took New York, and eventually the country, by storm."

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Comedian and actor Bob Newhart attends the Creative Arts Emmy Awards in Los Angeles on September 10, 2016. Newhart, a comedy icon who starred on "The Bob Newhart Show" and "Newhart," died at the age of 94 on July 18. Photo by Jim Ruymen/UPI | License Photo

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