WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Barack Obama on Monday named Major League Baseball Hall of Famers Willie Mays and Yogi Berra recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civilian honor.
Mays, 84, played 22 years in the majors, won two National League most valuable player awards and retired after the 1973 season with 660 home runs, the fifth most of all-time.
Lawrence Peter Berra, known to the world as Yogi, who died in September at the age of 90, was a catcher with the New York Yankees and one of the sports world’s most loved and frequently quoted figures.
Calling Mays and Berra “accomplished and beloved figures,” MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred said: “Both served their country, made enduring contributions to the Great American Game and created indelible memories for millions of its fans.”
Mays played 21 seasons with the New York Giants and San Francisco Giants franchise and was one of the first African-American players in the majors.
“As everyone knows, Willie is a national treasure and one of the greatest players in the history of baseball,” Giants President and CEO Larry Baer said in a statement.
“I cannot think of a more fitting tribute to recognize Willie for his endless contributions to our national pastime.”
Berra, a 10-time World Series champion, was a feared clutch hitter who helped the Yankees dominate baseball from 1947 to 1963.
“This honor is a fitting tribute to a man who not only represented the sport of baseball with unequaled dignity and humor, but exemplified the best virtues of our country through his military service and compassion for others,” Yankees principal owner Hal Steinbrenner said.
“His life was truly the embodiment of the American dream.”
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is given to individuals who have made special contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.
Mays and Berra were two of 17 recipients named by Obama on Monday. The awards will be presented at the White House on Nov. 24.
“From public servants who helped us meet defining challenges of our time to artists who expanded our imaginations, from leaders who have made our union more perfect to athletes who have inspired millions of fans, these men and women have enriched our lives and helped define our shared experience as Americans,” Obama said.
Reporting by Steve Ginsburg; Editing by Cynthia Osterman