Willie Mays was among the first generation of African American ballplayers to come to the major leagues in the wake of Jackie Robinson, joining the New York Giants in 1951. After being voted Rookie Of The Year, Mays entered the military in 1952, returning to the Giants for the 1954 season, where he earned his first National League MVP award, while leading the Giants to a pennant. It was in the 1954 World Series that Willie made the most famous defensive play in Series history, making a spectacular catch in the deepest part of the Polo Grounds outfield, robbing Cleveland Indians slugger Vic Wertz of a game changing extra base hit, helping the Giants gain a four game sweep of the Series. By the mid-fifties, Mays had established himself as baseball’s most exciting and complete player. In 1958, the Giants moved to San Francisco, and, within a few years, surrounded Willie with enough talent to become perennial contenders in the National League. With the help of future Hall Of Fame teammates Orlando Cepeda, Willie McCovey and Juan Marichal, Mays’ Giants captured the 1962 pennant, and only barely missed a World Series win. By the time Willie Mays won his second MVP award in 1965, he had pretty much done it all in baseball, and spent much of the rest of his career achieving milestones, such as hitting his 600th career home run in 1969, and his 3000th hit in 1970. After being dealt to the Mets in 1972, Mays called it quits the following year, his home run total finishing at 660.
Although Willie Mays compiled incredible career numbers and collected numerous home run titles and All-Star Game starts, a mere reading of his accomplishments does not do him justice. Just as it’s nearly impossible to verbally describe the Grand Canyon or the Taj Mahal, the same could be same for Mays. Those who were lucky enough to see Mays in his prime could understand exactly what the late San Francisco sports writer Bob Stevens meant when, describing a triple Willie hit during an All-Star Game, simply wrote, “the only man who could have caught it, hit it”.
Mays’ has announced that he will use proceeds from his upcoming book, “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend” to benefit his numerous charitable organizations.