June 18, 2024

RIP: Willie Mays (1931-2024)

Willie Mays, a perennial candidate in any serious discussion of the greatest players in baseball history, died on Tuesday at the age of 93.

Mays began his career in 1948, at age 17, with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. Both the Red Sox and Yankees were among the teams scouting Mays in the late 40s, but the deep-seated racism of both organizations -- even though a small number of Black players had been permitted into the major leagues a few years earlier -- meant they had no intention of signing him.

Imagine Mays and Ted Williams playing in the same outfield (and lineup) for more than a decade . . . Boston's poor treatment of one of Mays's teammates, signing him in an attempt to get greater access to Mays and cutting him when that ploy failed, also soured Birmingham's willingness to deal with the Red Sox. 

Mays joined the Giants organization in 1950. After missing the 1953 season because of military service, Mays returned to the Giants and lit up the National League, leading the Giants to a World Series title and winning the MVP award at age 23. Mays led both leagues in batting (.345) and slugging (.667), while also topping the NL in triples (13), OPS (1.078) and OPS+ (175, which he surprassed only once in his career (185 in 1965)).

From 1957 to 1966, Mays never finished lower than sixth in the NL MVP voting: 4th, 2nd, 6th, 3rd, 6th, 2nd, 5th, 6th, 1st, 3rd.

A few factoids from the mlb.com link above:

Mays was the first player to hit 20 or more home runs for 17 consecutive seasons (1954-70).

Mays remains the major league leader for putouts by an outfielder (7,095) and extra-inning home runs (22).

He played in two dozen All-Star Games, and holds or shares records for appearances (24), at-bats (75), runs (20), hits (23), triples (three), extra-base hits (eight) and total bases (40). (Stan Musial also played in 24 ASG and Hank Aaron played in 25. All three guys were helped by the fact that two All-Star Games were played in 1959, 1960, 1961, and 1962.)

Mays was elected to the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1979, but 23 of the 432 voters (5.3%) left him off their ballots.


FenFan said...

Mays (or his representatives) earlier in the day had stated that he wouldn't attend the game at Rickwood Field between the Giants and Cardinals Thursday night. Now he can be there in spirit.

I'm clearly baffled why players like Mays, Aaron, and others didn't get 100% of the HoF vote. Why would any sportswriter exclude players of their caliber? I would have voted for Mays twice.

laura k said...

It always amazes me that maintaining racism and segregation was more important than winning -- to the teams' fucking owners. Also a good reminder that this wasn't a Southern thing.

I wonder if Charles Schulz got to meet Willie Mays.

Von Allan said...

Yes, apparently Charles Schulz did meet Willie Mays:


There's a recollection by the late Lee Mendelson at https://schulzmuseum.org/willie-mays-and-a-charlie-brown-christmas/

Paul Hickman said...

Sadly, Racism is alive & well & has been for Centuries !!!!!

He certainly wasn't left off the ballot because he wasn't good enough ....... I'd like to know WHO those "Journalists" actually were - but I will bet they wouldn't like to be known ........