Baseball great Willie Mays, 16 others, receive honors from Obama

Tue Nov 24, 2015 8:17pm EST
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By Roberta Rampton

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays, sporting running shoes with his suit and tie, rose slowly from his chair and waved his baseball cap as President Barack Obama decorated him on Tuesday with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Mays, 84, one of the first black players in Major League Baseball and considered among the game's all-time greats in a career spent mostly with the New York and San Francisco Giants, was among 17 people given the highest U.S. civilian honor.

"It's because of giants like Willie that someone like me could even think about running for president," Obama said during the White House ceremony.

Obama clearly relished the celebration honoring accomplishments in sports, the arts and public service after spending much of his day in meetings with French President Francois Hollande over the fight against Islamic State.

Before giving singer/actress Barbra Streisand her medal, Obama noted her "chutzpah" as a young Jewish-American Broadway star and for selling more albums in the United States than any other woman.

"I'm getting all verkempt just thinking about it," he said, using the Yiddish expression for "choked up."

Obama recounted how Grammy Award-winning Cuban-American singer Gloria Estefan, and her producer/songwriter husband, Emilio Estefan, both honorees, first met.

"He was playing 'Do the Hustle' - on an accordion. She said she found this 'sexy and brave.' I mean, the brave part I understand," Obama said.   Continued...

U.S. President Barack Obama presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former professional baseball player Willie Mays during an event in the East Room of the White House in Washington November 24, 2015.  REUTERS/Carlos Barria