Willie Howard Mays, Jr.
Teams: Birmingham Black Barons (1948-1950), minor leagues (195o-1951), major leagues (1951-1952, 1954-1973), military service (1952-1953)
Height: 5' 11'' Weight: 175
Born: May 6, 1931, Westfield, Alabama
Mays started his baseball career as a teenager with the Negro American League champion Birmingham Black Barons in 1948. When manager Piper Davis penciled in his name on his lineup card as the left fielder and seventh-place batter for the Black Barons, the future superstar was a seventeen-year old high school student. During his tenure with the team, Davis became Mays' mentor and was like a second father to the youngster.
Mays began playing sandlot ball as a shortstop with a team called the Fairfield Stars but quickly advanced to a semi-pro team, the Chattanooga Choo Choos, when Davis recruited him for the Black Barons. As a minor, Mays had to secure permission from his father, "Cat" Mays, who had been a center fielder in the industrial leagues around Birmingham, and who was reported to have played with the Black Barons for a short time.
At the time Willie began his professional career with the Black Barons, he was called "Buck" by his friends, and it was not until years later that he became the "Say Hey Kid." When he joined the team it was obvioous that he could run and throw, but Davis saw beyond the basic raw skills. On his first day in a Black Barons' uniform, the team was playing a Sunday doubleheader at Rickwood Field in Birmingham. Mays sat out the first game but was inserted into the starting lineup for the second game, causing some grumbling among many of the veteran players. But Davis's support and Mays' performance dispelled any concerns about his ability. Although Mays had 2 hits in the game off a tough veteran pitcher, he was still the fourth-best outfielder on the team. Conveniently, Fate stepped in, and by the first of June he was the regular center fielder, taking over when starter Norman Robinson broke his leg. Neither of the fielders in the side pastures was noted for his range, and when a ball was hit to the outfield they would yell, "Come on, Willie!"
In 1948, his first year with the Black Barons, he hit .262 with only 1 home run and 1 stolen base, but played well in the field during the regular season and in the ensuing Negro World Series in a losing cause. The youngster had difficulty hitting a curveball, but with Piper Davis's help, he bagan maturing as a hitter, and in 1949 he elevated his batting average to .311 and continued to raise his average in 1950, hitting .330 with good power (.547 slugging percentage) before being signed by the Giants and shipped to Trenton for the remainder of the season. There he continued to blister the ball, hitting .353 and slugging .510. That performance earned a promotion to Minneapolis in the AAA American Association, where he stayed for about a month, hitting .477 and slugging .799 before being called up to the New York Giants in 1951 at age twenty.
Leo Durocher inserted him into center firld and he hit .274 with 20 home runs as a rookie, and the Giants won the National League pennant. That was his last full season until 1954 when, after two years in the Army, he returned to lead the Giants to another National League flag and to a World Series victory over the Cleveland Indians in a Series most remembered for "the catch." He also led the league in batting with a .345 average and in triples with 13, while slugging 41 home runs and collecting 110 RBIs.
The rest of his career is well chronicled, finishing his twenty-two year assault on major-league baseball with a .302 lifetime average, 660 home runs, 1903 RBIs, 2062 runs, and 338 stolen bases. Along the way he won a batting title, three home-run titles (with a personal high of 52 in 1965), four stolen base titles, and assorted titles in triples, hits, and runs.
In a career that started as a teenager in the Negro Leagues, he finished with election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility.
Source: James A. Riley, The Biographical Encyclopedia of the Negro Baseball Leagues, New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers, Inc., 1994.
Baseball Career Highlights:
Starting his baseball career with the Negro American League Champion Birmingham Black Barons, this 17-year old outfielder was destined to be regarded as the best all around player in baseball history.
For 21 seasons, as a New York and San Francisco Giant (1951-1952, 1954-1972), Mays led the organization in nearly every category: games (2,857), at bats (10,477), runs (2,011), hits (3,187), doubles (504), and home runs (646). He ranked second in triples (139 - 20 behind Mike Tiernan), RBI (1,859 - one behind Mel Ott) and stolen bases (332 - two behind George Bums). Mays' batting average with the Giants was .304.
Named the National League "Rookie of the Year" in 1951, Mays hit.274 with 20 home runs and 68 RBI in 121 games. In 1952, Mays played in only 34 games before joining the military. Upon his return in 1954, he was voted the National League's "Most Valuable Player" after leading the league with a .345 batting average, 41 home runs and 110 RBI. With a personal best of .347 in 1958, he batted .300 or more 10 times.
In 1962, Mays broke the 100 RBI for the 10th time with a career high 141. He led the National League in home runs in 1962 (49) and 1964 (47). Leading the league with 52 homers, a.317 batting average and 112 RBI, Mays was chosen "Most Valuable Player" for a second time in 1965. On baseball's all time lists, Mays ranks third in home runs (660), eighth in RBI (1,903) and 10th in hits (3,283). He had a lifetime batting average of .302.
Mays was the first player to record 300 homers and 300 stolen bases (338) and only three other players have since joined him: Barry Bonds, Bobby Bonds and Andre Dawson. Mays is baseball's all time leader in outfield putouts (7,095). San Francisco traded Mays to the New York Mets in 1972. Mays retired at the end of the 1973 season.
Inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979, Mays became the ninth individual to be chosen in his first year of eligibility. His uniform, No. 24, has been retired by the Giants. Mays currently serves as a special assistant to the president with the Giants and makes appearances at charitable and civic events throughout the Bay Area.
Awards, Honors, Titles, Championships,
• National League "Rookie of the Year" - 1951
• National League's "Most Valuable Player" - 1954, 1965
• 12 Gold Gloves (every year from 1957-1968)
• 24 All-Star Games
• Holds All-Star Game Career Records for Hits (23) and Stolen
• Set a Giants' Franchise Record With Four Home Runs in Game
(Milwaukee's County Stadium) - April 30, 1960
• National Baseball Hall of Fame Inductee - 1979
Source: NLBM Legacy 2000 Players' Reunion Alumni Book, Kansas City Missouri: Negro Leagues Baseball Museum, Inc., 2000.