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Sports Then and Now

Happy 80th Birthday Willie Mays

Posted on May 06, 2011 by Dean Hybl

Happy 80th birthday to the "Say Hey Kid".

The beauty of sports is that even though his birth certificate tells us that Willie Mays turns 80 years old today, our minds can still remember the “Say Hey Kid” as the young superstar with a smile and personality that could light up New York and who possessed enough talent to fill up a baseball stadium.

You can argue about who was the greatest baseball player of all-time, but there is little doubt that Mays is on the short list for any discussion.

Mays was the rare player who could win games with his bat, glove and legs.

After earning Rookie of the Year honors in 1951, Mays missed most of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season while serving in the military.

When he returned in 1954, Mays began a streak of 19 straight years earning an All-Star spot as he won the first of his two National League MVP Awards.

During his career, Mays led the league in runs, hits, triples, home runs, stolen bases, batting average, on base percentage and slugging percentage.  He was the first player in baseball history to steal 30 bases and hit 30 home runs in the same season.

In the field, Mays brought a style to the outfield that had never previously been seen. His catch of a drive by Vic Wertz in the first game of the 1954 World Series is still considered the greatest catch in baseball history and credited by many as being the biggest reason the New York Giants went on to sweep the Cleveland Indians in four games.

He won a Gold Glove as one of the top defensive outfielders in the league in each of the first 12 years of the award.

Along with the recently deceased Duke Snider of the Brooklyn Dodgers and Mickey Mantle of the New York Yankees, Mays was part of the famous New York centerfield trio known as “Willie, Mickey and the Duke.”

Mays catch of a drive off the bat of Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series is still considered the greatest catch of all-time.

When the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1958, Mays initially struggled in his new city as he had become synonymous with New York.

Eventually, Mays won over the fans in San Francisco and spent 14 full seasons with the Giants. After having played in two World Series in his first three seasons, Mays played in just one more World Series with the Giants as they lost to the New York Yankees in 1962.

Mays claimed his second MVP Award in 1965 when he hit 52 home runs and drove home 112 runs.

His skills eventually started to erode as 1965 was the last of 12 straight seasons in which Mays scored 100 or more runs. The 1966 campaign was the last of 11 seasons in which he hit more than 30 homers and final of 10 years in which he drove in 100 or more runs. His .317 batting average that season also marked the last year in which he hit over .300.

After helping the Giants reach the playoffs in 1971, Mays was traded back to New York midway through the 1972 season and spent his final year and a half in the league as a member of the Mets.

Though he was no longer the great “Say Hey Kid”, Mays did conclude his career with an appearance in the 1973 World Series for the Mets.

At the time of his retirement, Mays ranked third in baseball history with 660 home runs. He also scored 2,062 runs, stole 338 bases, drove home 1,903 runs and had a career batting average of .302.

Here’s wishing Mays a very happy 80th birthday and the wish of many more to come.

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