Say hey! The great Willie Mays turns 90

The Giants threw him a bash.

He’s now the oldest living player in the Hall of Fame, and many say he’s the greatest player ever to take the field. I don’t know about “ever,” but I think he’s the right choice among those who have played since WW2, and I can’t name a position player from any era who could do as many things as well.

You may not know: Willie’s home and road stats look like carbon copies.

Per 162 games 2b 3b HR R RBI Avg
Home 28 6 36 110 100 .302
Road 28 8 35 112 105 .301

7 thoughts on “Say hey! The great Willie Mays turns 90

  1. I’m sorry, I must have been transported to an alternative universe where Hank Aaron was never born. 50% of Mays’ reputation came from “the catch,” I guess because his hat fell off, it happened in NY, it happened during the WS and he almost threw out the advancing runner. ZZZZZZ. Let’s also remember that from 1959 on, he hit ahead of McCovey, who was the more feared of the two. As for losing 1000 AB to the war, what war are we talking about? Please.

    1. Korea was the war. Henry was lucky enough to make the majors just after the armistice had been signed. Willie, being three years older, was drafted during the war and lost almost two full seasons, probably about 1,150 plate appearances

      Their careers are very close in value, almost too close to call. As hitters, they are absolutely identical, but Willie pulls ahead with:

      More speed. (Mays led the league in steals four times, triples three times, while Henry never did either)

      Better defense. Mays played a more difficult defensive position, and is often considered the best of all time at the position, earning 11 gold gloves along the way. In contrast Henry won only three gold gloves when he was young and his lifetime dWar is below zero.

      In short, Willie did everything at least as well and did some things better. But I’d rate Hank just a hair lower on the all-time lists, maybe directly beneath Mays.

      The National League was blessed with four of the 25 greatest players in history all playing the outfield in the same decade (1956-65), and they were all at the pinnacle of their abilities in the last five years of that decade. The league had so much talent that no matter how good they were, one of them would have to miss the starting line-up of the all-star game. (In the real world, they played seven all-star games in those five years. Mays actually started all seven, Clemente five, Aaron only two, Robinson none. Tommy Davis filled three of the LF slots by playing at a level he would never again approach. In 1962 he batted in 153 runs despite playing his home games at Dodger Stadium. No other Dodger has ever even approached that.)

  2. That is true, but remember that Ruth lost nearly 2000 at bats by spending five years as a full-time pitcher. Willie got 1800 more plate appearances than Ruth.

  3. The late, great Ernie Harwell, who saw most of this guys play, said that Mays was the greatest of all.

  4. If you say he’s the best since WW2, you really are saying he’s the best of all-time. Because if you want to talk about guys like Ruth or Gehrig or Cobb, or even DiMaggio or Williams, well, none of those guys played against the great black ballplayers for any or most of their careers. If baseball had been totally integrated back in his time, would Ruth have hit as many homers?

    I’m totally satisfied saying the Say Hey kid was the greatest baseball player of all time. If that’s wrong, it ain’t wrong by much.

    1. Yup, Ruth did play against a diluted talent pool. It wasn’t just the absence of black stars. Even some of the top WHITE players were out of the majors in those days because of the independent minor league system that existed at the time.

      For example, Ruth didn’t have to face Lefty Grove from 1921-1924, even though Grove was probably the best pitcher in the game. Grove’s contract was owned by the minor league Baltimore Orioles, whose owner just refused to sell after Grove went 12-2 in 1920. Over the next four years, Grove won an average of 24 games per year … for Baltimore!

      That said, I’d balance it off by saying that Ruth’s offensive stats lost most of five years while he was a pitcher, and he played six years in the deadball era. If you look at his numbers only in the lively ball era, they are ungodly. His lifetime slugging average from 1920 on was .708. And he had also been the best left-handed pitcher in the AL before he moved to the OF full time.

      But athletes do improve over time, so I doubt if the Babe could have done what he did in the 50s and 60s even if the game had still been segregated, let alone playing against the full talent pool.

      I guess that argument could swing back and forth forever, but I feel comfortable to say that Willie was the greatest right-handed position player of all time, and I stand by my claim that there has never been a player, left or right handed, who could do so many things so well.

      I just want to conclude this by noting that Willie amassed my favorite AAA season of all time, when he batted .477 for Minneapolis in 1951. He was on pace to hit something like 80 doubles that year (he had 18 in 35 games) before the Giants finally gave in to Durocher’s constant begging and promoted Willie to the big club.

  5. And like a lot of stars of the the era, he probably lost 1000 ABs in his prime to the war

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