Friday, May 6, 2011

Happy 80th Birthday Willie Mays

If ever there was a reason to use a time machine to go back in time is to watch Baseball players from prior eras in person and in glorious color. Granted, we have news reels and newspaper clippings to refer back to the exploits of many former players. But nothing comes close to saying that I saw so and so hit that massive homerun, steal that pivotal base, throw that no-hitter or make that amazing catch. Speaking of amazing catches, today is the Birthday of arguably the best Baseball player there has ever been. Willie Howard Mays, Jr was born on May 6, 1931 in the town of Westfield, Alabama. From his teenage years, the exploits of Mays' speed and baserunning were known throughout the Negro Leagues. Mays played with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League while he was still a high school student in 1948. After signing with the New York Giants in 1950, Mays played minor league ball with class B Trenton, New Jersey and the AAA Minneapolis Miners of the American Association. Nays made his big league debut for the New York Giants on May 24, 1951 against the Philadephia Phillies. After a slow start and some self doubt, Mays' career picked up and he never looked back.

Playing in the same Golden Era of New York City Baseball as the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Yankees, the New York Giants made the World Series in 1951 and 1954 winning the 1954 series against the heavily favored 111-43 Cleveland Indians. In arguably the most famous catch in a World Series game, Mays made an unbelievable over the head catch to rob Vic Werth of an extra base-hit and keeping the two runners on base from scoring keeping the game tied. The Giants would eventually win Game 1 and sweep the Indians to win the 1954 World Series. Mays would never play in the World Series again. Until the Giants moved to San Francisco, the New York Baseball seen was dominated by the trio of great outfielders of Mays, Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees and Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Mays would play for the Giants until 1972 when he returned to New York City playing for the New York Mets for one season before retiring at the end of the 1973 season. His final career line is a so:

.302 Batting average with 660 HRs and 1903 RBI. Mays had 3208 hits (523 2B/140 3B/660 HR) with 338 stolen bases (in 441 attempts), 1526 strikeouts with 1464 walks. His career OPS was .941 (.384 OBP%/.557 SLG%). Mays was also a defensive marvel finishing with a .981 fielding percentage making only 141 errors in 7095 career putouts in the outfield. Mays won the Rookie of the Year award in 1951, won two National League MVP awards (1954, 1965) finishing in the top ten in MVP voting 12 times. Mays was a 20-time All-Star and won 12 consecutive Gold Glove awards. Willie Mays was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in his first year of eligibility in 1979 with 94.7 percent of the vote (409 of 432 votes).

As hard as it is to me to believe that he would not get the other remaining 23 votes, Mays was only the 14th person at that time to be elected to the Hall of Fame in his 1st year of eligibility. I would just like to thank Wille Mays for all he has done for the game of Baseball and for the generations of Baseball fans who grew up reading and watching footage of his exploits. I wish I was able to see him play live but at least I can say that I had the privilege of seeing Mays in any way shape or form. Maybe I'll get lucky and someone will invent that time machine so I can sit down in the Polo Grounds and watch the marvel that is Willie Mays. Thank you and Happy Birthday


For Further Reading:
- Click Here to access Willie Mays' career statistics from Baseball
- Click Here to access Willie Mays' page from the National Baseball Hall of Fame website
- Click Here for a blogpost that I wrote on April 30, 2007 on Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente and the 1954 Puerto Rican Winter League season that they played together in the outfield from my Latinoball blogpage

No comments:

Post a Comment