Willie Mays "The Sey Hey Kid #24": The Mets Years (1972 - 1973)

By 1972 the Giants franchise was losing money, and owner Horace Stoneham was in debt. He would not be able to pay Mays' his big salary.

So, after negotiations with the Mets Willie was traded back to New York for pitcher Charlie Williams & $50,000.

At first, he did not know all the details & was upset at the trade. He felt betrayed by the Giants organization after all his years of dedicated service. 

He felt a bit better after Stoneman tried to explain that it was done for Mays’ best interests as well as the team’s financial situation.

New York Mets owner, Mrs.  Joan Payson was a huge fan of Willie and had tried to purchase his contract years earlier, offering one million dollars, but Stoneham refused the offer. 

In 1972 the Mets gave Mays a ten-year contract at $ 175,000 a year, and after retirement $50,000 a year for the rest of his life. They offered him a position as a coach upon his retirement & Mrs. Payson promised to retire his number.

Willie’s return to New York was surrounded excitement & fanfare. The fans & the media went wild with his return to the Big Apple. 

Mays was now forty years old, in the twilight of his career and no longer the superstar player he once was.

Mets Career: The Say Hey Kid made his Mets debut on Sunday, May 14h, Mother’s Day 1972. He was batting leadoff & playing in centerfield against his former Giants teammates. 

In his first at bat, he strutted to the plate to a huge Shea Stadium ovation from the 35,505 fans in attendance. Willie then drew a walk off Sudden Sam McDowell. McDowell would walk the next two batters as well & them Rusty Staub followed with a grand slam HR.

Willie struck out against McDowell in second at bat.  The Giants tied up the game with a four-run 5th inning. Mays led off the 5th inning, facing Don Carrithers. 
As fate would have it, Willie delighted the crowd & his teammates as he hit what turned out to be the game-winning home run. The Shea crowd went wild as he circled the bases in a dramatic heroes return.

His next start was May 18th against the Montreal Expos, although he went hitless, he walked & scored one of the two Mets runs in the 2-1 win.

On May 21st, with the Mets down 3-1 in the 8th inning at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia, Mays homered off the Phillies Steve Carlton, a two-run blast that also proved to be the 4-3 game winner. 

On that same road trip, the Mets went to Chicago & Mays had two more multi-hit games at Wrigley Field. On May 25th, Mays singled in the top of the 14th inning in a 2-2 tie, driving in Wayne Garrett with the winning run. 

Amazingly in his first six games back in New York, he drove in two game winning runs, had eight hits, two HRs five RBIs & drew six walks.

As June began, he drew five walks in his first three games & collected two more hits. On June 14th, he had an RBI double off Jim Nash in a 8-3 Mets win over the Braves in Atlanta.

Two days later, on June 16th in a game at Cincinnati, Mays singled off Gary Nolan in the 7th inning tying up the game at one. In the top of the 9th, he was at bat when Red's pitcher Gary Nolan threw a wild pitch scoring Bud Harrelson with the games 2-1 winning run.

On June 30th, Mays hit a solo HR, against the Montreal Expos Tom Walker in a 7-3 Mets win. That month Willie played in 16 games, had eleven hits, scored five runs & drew 13 walks. 

On July 2nd, he drove in another run in a 4-3 Mets loss at Montreal. His old Giants teammates came back to Shea for a three-game set on July 19th. In the first game he drew a pinch hit walk in the Mets loss. He walked the next night as well but went 0-3. 

On Wednesday July 12th, Willie collected two hits & a pair of walks, scoring a run in Jon Matlack's 4-0 shut out.

In mid-July, he made his first trip back to the West Coast. On July 15th, in San Diego Mays was batting second & drew a 1st inning walk then eventually scored in Bill Sudakis' two run base hit. The Mets won the game 2-1. 

In the 1st game of a July 18th double header in Los Angeles, Mays scored the only run of the game in a 2-1 Mets loss. On July 20th, his 5th inning double off the Dodgers Al Downing, proved to be the game's winning run in a 2-1 Gary Gentry Mets victory.

The next night was his big return to San Francisco. At first manager Yogi Berra announced Mays would not be playing in the series opener, but Mays approached Berra & told him he thought he should play, since the fans were anxiously awaiting his return. 

In his first at bat the 18,117 fans at Candlestick Park, cheered him & rooted for a hit. Old #24 said it felt strange being in a visiting uniform in San Francisco, as well as having fans cheer for him exiting the visitors' dugout.

In his first two at bats, he grounded out both times, but in the 5th inning, he hit a two run HR off pitcher Jim Barr. The two run HR put the Mets up 3-0, in yet another glorious Mays moment. The Bay Area crowd cheered for Willie once again, even though he was now on the visiting team. Mays was making the fans happy on both coasts.

In the next game, he came to bat as a pinch hitter, in the top of the 9th with two on in a tie game, drawing a walk. The Mets did not score & lost the game when Danny Frisella threw a wild pitch scoring Chris Speir. He went 0-3 in the series finale, which the Mets lost as well.

1972 All Star Game:
Wilie was the starting centerfielder for the National League in the All-Star game at Atlanta Stadium. It was his 23rd straight All-Star appearance. He went 0-2 in the NL's 4-3 victory.

When the Mets returned home, Mays had a three-hit night against the Expos on a July 29th, as he drove in his 13th Mets run in the 6-3 loss. 

He would start out August going 0-2 as a pinch hitter, in two games against the Phillies. On August 4th, in front of 43,992 fans at Shea, Mays hit a 1st inning solo HR off the Cubs Ferguson Jenkins. It was his 650th career HR, third on the all-time list. He then added two more RBI singles as well, helping lead Jim McAndrew to a 6-1 win. The Mets were still in the pennant race 6.5 games out.

On August 12th, Mays helped Tom Seaver & the Mets to a 2-1 win at Wrigley Field, hitting a HR
off Cubs pitcher Burt Hooton. Mays had a big night, with the HR, two doubles & walk. 

He homered the next day as well, another off Ferguson Jenkins, in a 7-4 Mets loss at Wrigley. On August 18th, Mays hit his final round tripper of the 1972 season, #654 of his careers. In the month of August, he hit four HRs & had six RBIs, including two three hit games. 

Willie played well enough with the Mets after arriving that season, although the age was catching up with him. He felt manager Yogi Berra was using him too much and wearing him out. Mays even took a short leave of absence without telling anyone.

In the final month of the season, the Mets had fallen out of the race, a tired Mays played in only seven games but did get six hits.

For the Mets that year he hit a respectable .267 with 52 hits 8 HRs 9 doubles 19 RBIs 43 walks & a .402 on base % in 69 games played. 
His on base percentage was the best on the club, he also had the teams second highest slugging % (.446%) behind Rusty Staub.

In the outfield he made just three errors in 113 chances with three assists & a .973 fielding %.

1973 Mets Pennant Season: Willie felt the age catching up to him, in Spring Training 1973 he asked his old friend/coach Herman Franks to come down & take a look at him. Franks was convinced if he didn't get hurt, Mays could play well enough for another year. 

Mays had trouble at some work outs as his legs tired easily & he'd have to tape them up. He also was having some issues with Mets manager Yogi Berra. Saying he did know if he was going to play that night or what outfield position, he would be at if he did play.

 In the 1973 Mets pennant season, Willie was certainly no longer the Hall of Fame Player he once was. But his presence was monumental & inspirational. He would serve as a tutor & coach to the younger players 

He played as a reserve outfielder behind Don Hahn in center & made 11 pinch hit appearances (3-10). 

In the second game of the 1973 season, he singled home the winning run in the bottom of the 9th off Philadelphia’s Dick Selma (a former Met) giving the Mets a dramatic 3-2 win over the Phillies. 

He went hitless in his next six games, as he batted under the .100 mark until the end of April. On April 27th, he had one of the Mets three hits off the Braves Pat Dobson, as he beat Tom Seaver shutting out the Mets 2-0. The next night Mays had two hits & scored a run in the 4-2 Met win.

He only saw action in two games during the month of May. On June 5th in Cincinnati, he stole his last career base #338, it was the only base he’d steal on the season, this coming at age 41. It was stolen off the Reds backup catcher Bill Plummer, who was in that day as Hall of Famer Johnny Bench had the night off.

On June 9th, Mays hit a 3rd inning HR against the Dodgers' Al Downing to break a 2-2 tie at Shea Stadium. He also scored two runs that day as the Mets went on to win it 4-2. 

On June 16th, Mays led off the 6th inning with career HR #656, coming off the Padres Randy Jones in a 10-2 Mets win. On June 22nd, Mays doubled with the bases loaded off the Pirates Steve Blass, driving in all three runs in the Mets 5-4 win at Pittsburgh.

In July, Mays had his best month, with 15 hits including a six-game personal hit streak. He hit a pair of HRs with four doubles & eight RBIs in that month. He also had two pinch hits, playing in 18 games (64 at bats) overall that month.

He played in both ends of a July 1st double header at Wrigley Field, collecting two hits & an RBI in the second game. 

On July 4th, he hit a HR in Montreal, having his second straight two hit day. On July 15th he homered off the Reds Ross Grimsley, for his career HR #658 in a 3-1 loss at Cincinnati.

On July 17th Willie came to bat as a pinch hitter for Wayne Garrett in the top of the 9th inning with two men on & the Mets down 7-6 at Atlanta. Mays delivered with a two-run single 
off Tom House. scoring Jim Beachamp & Ted Martinez with the games winning runs. 

1973 All Star Game: Willie was not elected to the 1973 All Star game, but MLB Commissioner Bowie Kuhn expanded the rosters to include Mays' as he thought it be in the best interest of baseball. For Mays it was his 24th All Star game as he had been in evert Mid-Summer Classic from 1954-1973. Only Stan Musial & Hank Aaron have played in as many All-Star Games.

Mays & Tom Seaver represented the Mets in the NL's 7-1 win at Kansas City. Mays came to bat as a pinch hitter in the 8th inning, striking out against Sparky Lyle, getting a big round of applause from the KC fans.

Quotes- Ted Williams: "The All-Star Game was created for Willie Mays".

On August 2nd, Mays contributed to a 5-1 Mets win, with two hits, two runs scored & an RBI single. The next evening on August 3rd, he hit HR #659 off St. Louis’ pitcher Diego Segui, a three-run shot at Shea 
Stadium, helping the Mets to a 7-4 win.

On August 17th he hit his last career HR, #660, a solo shot off the Reds Don Gullet, the only run in a 2-1 Met loss at Shea Stadium. 

On August 29th, at Shea Stadium, he had the last regular season hit of his career, #3283, it came off the Padres Rich Troedson, an RBI single in the Mets 3-0 win behind Jerry Koosman.

Mays didn’t see much action during the Mets September stretch run for the NL East title, going 0-6 in only three early September games. 

Willie Mays Night: On September 25th, 1973, a New York crowd of 54,000 turned out to say goodbye to Willie, on “Willie Mays Night” at Shea Stadium. The game was also a huge game for the Mets, as they were in first place with a half game lead over the Pittsburgh Pirates, with just six games left to play.

The Mets gave him a new car as a gift.  Some of his old NY Giants teammates (Bobby Thompson, Monte Irvin) as well as some rival Brooklyn Dodgers (Ralph Branca, Pee Wee Reese) & Joe DiMaggio came were on hand for the festivities.  

With tears in his eyes, he told the crowd, “I look at those kids over there fighting to win, and I know one thing, Willie it’s time to say Goodbye to America”. 

After the speech he broke down & shed tears. After all the great years it was tough to say goodbye.

Before returning home to the Riverdale section of the Bronx where he was living, Mrs. Payson convinced him to stay at the ballpark with the guys to make it easier.

In his final season, he only batted .211 with 44 hits in 209 at bats, 6 HRs 10 doubles 27 walks &25 RBIs. 

As the Mets celebrated their NL Eastern title at Wrigley Field in Chicago, Mays was doused with champagne by his young teammates as he went out a winner.

Post Season: 1973 NLCS: Willie made his first post season appearance on the field as part of
a peace contingent who went out to left field after the Bud Harrelson Pete Rose brawl In Game #3.

The Shea crowd had thrown anything they could find down at Pete Rose, & manager Sparky Anderson pulled his Reds off the field, saying "Pete Rose gave too much to baseball to die in left field at Shea Stadium".

The Mets were in jeopardy of forfeiting the game unless peace was restored. The crowd cheered as they saw Willie come out, along with Tom Seaver, Yogi Berra, Bud Harrelson & Rusty Staub.

He did not actually play in the series until the final Game #5, when he came to bat as a pinch hitter in the bottom of the 5th inning.

The crowd of 50,323 started giving him a standing ovation as he walked out of the dug out into the on decK circle. Mays nodded & tipped his cap to the Shea fans.

Even Reds catcher Johnny Bench gave Willie a "way to go" pat on his butt as he came to the plate. Mays did not disappoint, facing reliever Clay Carroll with the bases loaded, he chopped a base hit off the plate, bringing in Felix Millan putting the Mets up 4-2.

He would eventually score on Bud Harrelson's base hit in the Mets four run inning, as the Mets went up 6-2. Manager Yogi Berra kept Mays in the game to finish it out.

The Mets went on to win the game 7-2, clinching the NL pennant, upsetting the Big Red Machine while advancing to the World Series. 

Mays was on the field to celebrate but had to run for his life from the fans as they stormed the field. Mays sought safety in the Mets bullpen in right field as he & the relievers had to fight off the rowdy fans. They made their way safely to the clubhouse through the underground tunnel.

In the clubhouse he celebrated with his Mets teammates, winning the fourth pennant of his career.

1973 World Series: Willie returned to the Bay area as the Mets faced the Oakland A’s in the 1973 World Series. 

In his 15 years playing in San Francisco, it was his first time he ever played in a baseball game across the Bay in Oakland. 

Mays got the start in World Series Game #1, as Rusty Staub was being sidelined with an injury, he suffered running into the wall at Shea Stadium in Game #4 of the NLCS.

The Bay area crowd gave him a long-standing ovation as he was announced during the pre-game team introductions.

Mays batted third in the lineup & got the first hit of the World Series, a 1st inning single into left field off A's pitcher, Ken Holtzman. Again, the home crowd cheered him as a visitor.

He grounded out in the 4th, flew out in the 5th & struck out in the 8th against Rollie Fingers in the Mets 2-1 loss.

In the four-hour, thirteen-minute epic Game #2, Mays came in as a pinch runner for Rusty Staub with the Mets ahead 6-4 in the 9th inning. 

The A’s would eventually tie the game, and Mays would go on to play centerfield in the extra innings.

It was a sad scene when he lost a fly ball in the sun in the Oakland out field. But so did A's outfielders' Joe Rudi & Reggie Jackson. 

Mays also tripped & fell down in centerfield. Also, he later stumbled harmlessly on the base paths. America was heartbroken, as NBC announcer Curt Gowdy said on the original broadcast; "it was sad watching the one of the greatest outfielders ever, struggle as father time caught up with him."

This example if often used when a player is way past his prime. But Mays also had some shining moments in that Series as well.

In the top of the 10th inning, Bud 
Harrelson attempted to score on a sac fly by Felix Millan. Home plate umpire Augie Donatelli was in the wrong position then fell down & missed the call, as Bud Harrelson was ruled out at home plate. Replay clearly showed, A's Catcher Ray Fosse missed the tag.

Mays was the on-deck batter & fell to his knees looking up at Donatelli, with his arms out questioning the call. 
It is still one of the most memorable sights of that classic World Series.

Willie came to bat in the 12th inning, with Harrelson on third & Tug McGraw on first, with two outs. Mays came through again in what was the last hit of his Hall of Fame career, as he singled to left field, off Rollie Fingers breaking the 6-6 tie. Of course, as the baseball gods would have it, it turned out to be the games winning run.

Quotes-Willie Mays: “As I stepped into the batter’s box, I called time & said to Oakland catcher Ray Fosse- gee it’s tough to see the ball with that background. I hope he don’t throw me no fastballs. I don’t want to get hurt.”

Sure enough, catcher Ray Fosse called for a fast ball, Willie then waited on Rollie Fingers pitch & singled to center. "I just felt I couldn’t let those kids down. They hadn’t seen me when I was young, but they expected me to set an example.” 

Ray Sadecki who had relieved Jerry Koosman in the 3rd inning & struck out three A's in 1.2 innings of work, was in the locker room watching on TV.

Sadecki had been a teammate of Mays in San Francisco from 1966-1969. He said "He has to get a hit. This game was invented for Willie Mays a hundred years ago."

After the game a happy Mets locker room got ready for the trip back to New York with the World Series even at one game each. Game #2 is still one of the longest World Series games in history. It is one of 14 games in World Series history to go 12 innings (at the time it was one of five). Two other games have gone longer.

Final Career At Bat at Shea: Mays got one more at bat in front of the New York fans in Game #3 at Shea Stadium. 

With one on, two outs & the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the 10th inning, he came to bat as a pinch hitter, grounding out to Bert Campaneris at short stop.

Willie Mays career was over when the Mets lost Game #7 in Oakland that Sunday afternoon October 21st, 1973.

Quotes- Tom Seaver: "Many of the New York writers made him out as a load we had to carry,
but quite the contrary he helped us carry the load we had all the way down through the season, especially the last month & a half, when we got hot & put it all together".

Tug McGraw: " I guess I learned as much from Willie Mays as anybody".

Jerry Koosman: "He was still our best player. I begged him not to retire".

Mets Career Stats: Willie Mays played in parts of two seasons for the Mets, 135 games 94 games in the outfield & 28 games at first base, he was used as a pinch hitter as well.

He collected 96 hits 19 doubles one triple & 14 HRs. Mays drove in 44 Mets runs, scored 51, walked 70 times hit .238 & posted a .352 on base % with a .746 OPS. Mays also stole two bases.

In the 1973 post season he batted .309 (3-10) with two RBI's & two Runs scored.

Retirement: After his playing days, he served as a New York Mets good will coach & instructor through the 1979 season. He also worked for the club, as well as MLB in the public relations area serving as a baseball ambassador. Mays would appear at youth events, banquets & minor league functions. Mays was also a PR guy for Colgate / Palmolive for 12 years.

He helped tutor many of the young outfielders that came through the Mets organization in those years. 

After principal Mrs. Payson died in 1975, former chairman M. Donald Grant took over & ran the team into the ground, most notably unwilling to pay Tom Seaver top dollar & refusing to give in to the new free agency ear of high-priced players.

Grant wanted Willie Mays to come on road trips with the team, something he had not been doing under Mrs. Payson. Grant wanted him to stay for the entire game, another practice he wasn't doing on a regular basis. 
The original Mets deal with Mrs. Payson had Mays coach before a game & in batting practice, usually leaving when the game began.

But Grant had new GM Joe McDonald take notes on when Mays arrived & when he left. 
An agreement was reached where he worked with the young players, stayed at games until the 4th inning & appeared at some of the farm teams sites.

By 1975 Phil Cavaretta was brought in as the team's first official hitting coach & Mays felt like a spare part. He still appeared at banquets & charity functions for the Mets through 1979. By then the organization was in shambles. 

Old Timers Days: Mays was a regular at Mets Old Timers Day's of the 1970's. A fan favorite, he would usually be accompanied by other great former Nwe York baseball players.

Cooperstown- Hall of Fame: Willie Mays was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979 while still in the Mets family.

Shea Goodbye: In 2008, he was on hand for the closing ceremonies of Shea Stadium. Mays was one of the final Mets to be announced just before Mike Piazza & Tom Seaver. As the Mets came to home plate for the last time, Mays was the first player to have the honors & leaned over to touch it.

Return to New York: In the 2010 off season after the S.F. Giants had won the World Series, Mays joined members of the Giants family on a trip to New York with the World Series trophy, available for public viewing to longtime Giants fans who had followed the team since their days in New York. Mays repeated this in 2013 after the Giants won another World Series. 

centerfieldmaz & darthmaz, were lucky to be attendance for the fantastic event, thanks to the NY Baseball Giants Nostalgia Society led by Bill Kent, who had recognized my postings which honored the old New York Giants baseball club. Mays told wonderful stories from his playing days, never missing a detail-Amazing!

Mets Honors: Fifty years after Mrs. Payson had promised Mays his number would be retired; the new ownership of Steve & Alex Cohen granted the long-awaited promise. 

In a surprise announcement at the first Mets Old Timers Day in almost thirty years, the Mets announced the Mays #24 would officially be retired.

Mays son Michael was on hand for the unveiling of the #24, as his former 1973 Mets teammates: Ed Kranepool, Cleon Jones, Jon Matlack & Felix Millian alongside. The crowd gave a cheer of recognition & many longtime fans, like me had a tear in their eye for the long-awaited honor!

Quotes- Mets emcee Howie Rose: "From this day forward, no Met will ever wear Willie May's iconic #24"".

Willie's son- Michael Mays: "Mrs. Payson & my dad had such an amazing relationship, her promises to him were important. So to come to fruition like this, something undone is done. We're thrilled, long time coming for sure."

Quotes- Mets teammate Cleon Jones: "No disrespect to Mickey Mantle, Duke Snider, Hank
Aaron, Clemente, no disrespect but nobody could do all the things that Willie could do to win a game".

The 91-year-old Willie Mays could not attend the ceremony as he recently had hip replacement. But in a statement, he said: 

"I want to thank Steve & Alex Cohen for making this day possible & embracing the Mets history. 

I can never forget the way it felt to return to New York to play for all the loyal Mets fans. I'm tremendously proud I ended my career in Queens with the Mets during the '73 World Series. It's an honor to have my number retired in my two favorite cities, New York & San Francisco. New York was a magical place to play baseball."


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