This week’s tribute to the 1973 Mets goes to the team’s part-time center fielder, Willie Mays. It’s basically impossible to do justice to Willie Mays in a blog post, as Mays is the man many consider to be the greatest player ever to play the game. Willie combined power, speed, and a strong arm in his prime. When he was in New York with the Giants, the debate raged about who was the best center fielder in town, Mays, Duke Snider, or Mickey Mantle (and Joe DiMaggio before Mantle).
Mays’s lifetime numbers are astonishing. In 22 seasons (all but 1.5 with the Giants), Mays hit 660 home runs, drove in 1903 runs, and hit .302. Mays also had a .941 OPS, though no one knew what that was when Willie played. Willie also had 338 lifetime stolen bases. Willie’s nickname was “The Say Hey Kid”, and was known for making basket catches in the outfield. After breaking in during the 1951 season, Mays went on to play 22 years with the Giants in New York and San Francisco. On May 11th, 1972, the Mets acquired Mays from the Giants for Charlie Williams and cash. As a 41-year-old in 1972, Mays appeared in 69 games for the Mets, hitting .267 with 8 home runs and 19 RBI. In the 1973 season, Mays played in 66 games, smacking 6 home runs, driving in 25 runs, and hitting .211. In the 1973 post season, Mays (who was playing injured) played in one NLCS game and hit .333. He played in 3 World Series games, hitting .286 with 1 RBI.
Many of us did not have a chance to see Mays play in his prime, and by all accounts, we missed a lot. While Willie had many achievements in his illustrious career (including his Hall of Fame induction in 1979), one moment we’ve probably all seen over the years is his amazing catch in the World Series (below):
The athleticism Mays showed in that play is what made him such a special player. Some say that if Mays hadn’t spent most of his career in hitter-unfriendly Candlestick Park, he would have hit more than Hank Aaron‘s 755 career home runs. That may be true, however, Willie is still revered for his incredible ability and career. While he was certainly past his prime when he played for the Mets, New York did have the opportunity to see one of its favorite sons end his career where it began. Here’s a Rising Apple hat-tip to perhaps the best player in the history of baseball, Willie Mays.