Willie Howard Mays was born in Westfield, Alabama on May 6, 1931. He became the best all around player the game has ever seen, a true five tool player who could do it all.
Mays was brought up to the NY Giants in 1951 at age 20.
He walked around the club house saying "say what, say who, say hey man," the name "The Say Hey Kid" stuck.
The story is now legendary how he went 0-12 in first week in the big leagues. He was crying telling manager Leo Durocher that he didn't belong up here. Leo siad "listen kid, your my centerfielder and I believe in you". Soon he blasted his first career HR off Warren Spahn deep into the Polo Grounds stands & his Hall of Fame career began.
That June he went from a .219 average to a .388 average by the end of the month. He hit ten HRs in the month of July including six from July 15th through July 22nd. Although he had no HRs in the month of August he drove in ten runs & kept his average up at .358.
He ended up winning the Rookie of the Year Award with 20 HRs 22 doubles 68 RBIs a .274 batting average & .367 on base %, playing in 120 games. His great centerfield play & bat helped the Giants comeback to overtake the Brooklyn Dodgers in their famous 1951 pennant run.
Post Season: He was 0-3 & in the on deck circle when Bobby Thomson hit "the shot heard round the world" to beat Brooklyn in Game #3 of the 1951 Playoff series.
Mays hit poorly in his first World Series. In his very first World Series game, he became part of history when he, Monte Irvin & Hank Thomson made up baseballs first all black outfield. Mays went 4-22 in the ’51 Series, driving in one run & scoring one run.
Mays missed most of the 1952 season & all of the 1953 season, going off to the military to serve his country in Korea. Imagine his stats if he hadn't missed these two prime seasons at the ages of 21 & 22. The Giants sure missed him as they finished second in 1952 & fifth in 1953.
Mays returned in 1954 and had a spectacular season leading the Giants to a World Championship. On Opening day he hit a 6th inning HR at the Polo Grounds to break a 3-3 tie against the Dodgers the run ended up being the game winner 4-3. During the last week of May he hit six HRs driving in 15 runs, totaling eleven HR for the month. In June he went on another tear hitting seven HR in a seven day stretch driving in eleven runs as the Giants won all but one of those games. In July he drove in 26 runs as the Giants NL lead began to grow & they never looked back.
Mays went on to win the league’s MVP Award as well as the N.L. batting title hitting .345. He also led the league with 13 triples, hitting 41 HRs (3rd in the NL) with 110 RBIs (6th in the NL) 33 doubles, 119 runs scored (3rd in the NL) & a .411 on base %.
In the outfield Mays posted a .985 fielding % (second in the NL) with 13 assists (4th in the NL) & 448 put outs (second).
Post Season: He led the Giants to a World Series sweep over the Cleveland Indians, and he made the greatest catch in baseball history in the first game. In Game #1 on September 29th 1954 at the Polo Grounds, the score was tied at two in the 8th inning when manager Leo Durocher brought in reliever Don Liddle to pitch to slugger Vic Wertz with two men on. Wertz belted the ball to deep center in the vast Polo Grounds, a good 475 feet away.
Mays turned and chased the ball down at full speed; he patted his glove and caught the ball over his shoulder basket style in amazing fashion. He spun around and threw the ball in to the infield to prevent the runner from scoring.
Mays would become one of the game’s greatest players ever throughout the decade.
He would play in every All Star Game from 1954 to the end of his career in 1973. He won 12 straight Gold Glove Awards & two MVP Awards (1954 & 1965) coming in runner up two other years. He would go on to hit 40 or more HRs six times, hit 30 plus HRs, eleven times & lead the league in that category four times (1955, 1962, 1964-1965). Mays was in the top five of the league HR leaders eleven times. Another interesting stat is that Mays hit 29 or more HRs for thirteen years in a row.
He finished his career with 660 HRs, third best all time at the time of his retirement, and he is currently number four on the all time list.
He drove in over 100 runs ten different seasons, and drove in over 90 runs twelve times. Although he never led the league in RBIs he was in the top three of the league five different times. His 1903 RBIs puts him at number ten on the all time list. Mays had incredible speed, especially in his early years, being one of the game’s best base runners. He led the league in steals four straight seasons from 1956-1959.
He would steal over twenty bases seven times. He had 30 HRs with 30 stolen bases twice in his career, almost inventing the now famous 30/30 club. He later said if he’d know it was to be such a big deal he would have done it more often. He scored over 100 runs for twelve straight seasons from 1954 through 1965 leading the league twice in that category (1958 & 1961).
He would hit 25 or more doubles 14 years in a row (1956-1968) belting over 30 doubles six times and would finish with 523 in his career, 37th all time. Mays speed helped him to lead the league in triples three times (1954-1955, 1957), hitting double figures in that department five different times.
In 1957 he hit an incredible twenty league leading triples. In his career he hit 140 triples putting him at 64th all time.
Mays had over 190 hits in a season three times, leading the league once & gathering 200 hits in the 1958 season. During the 1970 season he got his 3000th hit, & finished his career with 3283 hits, currently eleventh all time. He hit over .300 ten times, including seven straight seasons from 1957-1963. As mentioned he led the NL in hitting in 1954 (.349) and came in runner up the following three seasons (1955-1958).
After 1965 he never hit .300 again, but hit over .285 three more times until his retirement after the 1973 season. He led the league in on base percentage twice (1965 & 1971) and his .384 % is 146th all time. Mays led the league in extra base hits twice (1955 & 1963) and is 5th all time with 1323. He led the league in total bases three times & is 3rd all time with 6066. He also led the league in walks once (1971) it was the only time he drew over 100 in a season. He finished up with 1464, 20th all time.
He didn’t strikeout much for a power hitter, only striking out 90 or more times in a season, three times at the end of his career. Mays also led the league in slugging percentage five times, and life time has a .557% (20th all time).
Defensively, Mays was arguably the best centerfielders that ever lived, he had great range with speed, and a strong throwing arm. He won 12 straight Gold Glove Awards from 1957 to 1968. He led the league in put outs once but was runner up nine times.
In 1955 he led the league with 23 assists, and his 195 assists are 57th all time. He posted a .981 life time fielding percentage.
Mays was a fixture in All Star games from 1954 through his last season in 1973. He won the All Star Game MVP Awards twice, first in 1963 when he had two hits with two RBIs, including driving in the N.L.’s winning run. In the 1968 All Star Game Mays singled in the first inning. He was almost picked off first base, but advanced on an error, then went to third on a wild pitch. He scored the only run of the game when team mate Willie McCovey grounded into a double play.
That year Mays was named the game’s MVP.
He was a superstar with the Giants in New York City, but still played stickball on the streets of Harlem with the kids near the Polo Grounds.
In 1955 after the Championship the New York Giants fell to third place, as Brooklyn won another pennant. Mays had nine HRs in May & a strong July where he hit 13 HRs with 26 RBIs.
In September he homered in seven out of eight games in the middle of the month, drove in 30 runs for the month with eleven multiple RBI games. On the season he led the league in HRs (51) triples (13) & slugging (.659%) He was second in the league in RBIs (127) batting (.314) & runs scored (123). He also stole 24 bases & posted a .400 on base %. In centerfield he had a career best league leading 23 assists posting a .982 fielding % (fourth in the NL).
In 1956 he batted .296, it would be the first time in ten years he would bat below the .300 level. He won his first of four straight stolen base titles, swiping 40 bases. He hit 36 HRs to join the exclusive 30/30 club for the first of two seasons as well, but at the time it was never even mentioned. He hit 27 doubles, with 8 triples 84 RBIs posting a .369 on base %, ninth in the league but the lowest Mats would post for the next decade. He won another gold glove & was second in put outs for the third of five straight years.
1957 was the Giants last year in New York City, and they finished a dismal sixth place. Mays began the year hot with ten RBIs in his first week of the season. He got hot in May going on a 22 game hit streak into June. On the last day of the season, in the Giants last game at the Polo Grounds, Mays went 2-4 getting his last Polo Grounds hit as a home player in the 7th inning of the 9-1 loss. Mats went out of New York batting .333, finishing second to Stan Musial.
He led the league with an amazing twenty triples & 38 stolen bases. He hit 35 HRs (fourth in the NL) with 26 doubles, 112 runs scored (third in the NL) 97 RBIs (sixth in the NL) & a .407 on base % finishing in the NL's top five in most major offensive categories. In the outfield he posted a .980 fielding % & his 14 assists were second in the league as were his 422 put outs.
The Giants moved to San Francisco, there Willie was soon named team captain by new manager & former team mate Alvin Dark. In his first year on the West Coast he had a career high 208 hits, leading the league in runs scored (121) stolen bases (31) while batting a career high .347, second in the N.L. He hit 29 HRs & drove in 96 runs. He was consistent the next few seasons batting over .300, leading the league in hits (190) in 1960, steals (27) in 1959 runs (129) in 1961, & continuing to drive in over 100 runs again. He hit 40 HRs two years in a row including a 49 in 1962.
The 1962 Giants got to the World Series as Mays had a monster year leading the league with 49 HRs, driving in 141 RBIs (2nd in the NL) 36 doubles, 18 stolen bases, batted .304 and was runner up in the MVP voting. In the World Series Mays did not hit any HRs, going 7-28 batting .250 with only one RBI.
In 1963 he hit 38 HRs with 32 doubles 103 RBIs & hit .314, certainly great numbers except that he didn’t lead the league in any categories. Imagine that was an off year! He sure made up for it in 1964.
Mays led the league in HRs (47) and slugging % (.607). He was second in runs scored (121) third in RBIs (111), & walks (82). He hit .296 with a .383 on base percentage 171 hits & 29 doubles. He followed that up hitting a career high 52 HRs in 1965, winning another MVP Award, batting .317 (3rd in the league) & driving in 112 runs (also 3rd). He led the league in on base percentage (.398) & slugging (.645). That year he also hit his 500th HR, and it only took him four more years to hit his 600th.
1966 was the last season he played in over 150 games, and the last season he hit over 30 HRs (37) & drove in over 100 runs (103). By now The Sey Hey Kid was 36 years old, and he slowly went into the twilight of his career. In 1969 he missed some time, playing in only 117 games, posting 13 HRs 58 RBIs & a .283 average, the lowest totals of his career.
He was voted the Player of the Decade by the Sporting News for the accomplishments he had in the sixties.
During the 1970 season he got his 3000th career hit, and rebounded to a fine season; 28 HRs 83 RBIs & a .291 average. The 1971 Giants won the Western Division and Mays led the league in walks (112) & on base percentage (.425%). Although his 18 HRs 61 RBIs & .271 average were certainly a drop off, but still good for a 39 year old ball player.Mays hit a HR in Game 32 of the NLCS and batted .267 overall with three RBIs as the Giants fell to the eventual world champion Pirates.
(see Willie Mays: The Mets Years above)