Monday, June 24, 2024

Top 5 Tribute: Willie Mays

In all of the years I've been doing these small tributes to Hall of Fame players that have passed, I haven't had as hard of a time creating one as I have for the late great Willie Mays, who passed away on June 18th. Part of it is due to the fact I technically only have one playing era cards of his, but it's much more than that. How can you summarize this man's life on and off the field in a short little blog post? You can't. I even reread what I wrote for Hank Aaron, hoping for inspiration. Instead I found that a lot of what I wanted to say for Mr. Mays I had already said for Mr. Aaron. Here's my opening paragraph: 

This one hurts. Not that any of the others didn't, each spectacular life was one worth celebrating. But none of the recent string of deaths among the legends of baseball had the sheer impact as the immortal Henry Aaron. He was one of the true giants of the game, an automatic inclusion on the Mount Rushmore of the greatest of the great. His story transcended the game itself, captivating even non-baseball fans. There will never be another Hank Aaron.
I could have easily swapped out the names, removed the line about the recent string of deaths (Man, September 2020 to January 2021 was rough stretch for us baseball fans...) and chances are no one but me would have noticed. Even 2 of the 5 cards I showed of Aaron featured Mays and were on the short list for this post! It would still have been true though: There will never be another Willie Mays. 

As my small thanks to life of a Giant, both on and off the field, I humbly present the Top 5 Willie Mays cards in my collection:

1973 Topps

#1 All-Time Home Run Leaders


There was a time when Mays was #2 on the all-time list, and people wondered if it would be him to surpass the immortal Babe Ruth. It was not to be, and for the longest time these three would be the only ones to surpass the 600 home run mark. (Six more have joined that club since - 3 of which under questionable circumstances). 

1985 Topps Woolworth

All Time Record Holders

#26 Willie Mays 

The first two bullet points on the back of this card mention his All-Star Game career records of 20 runs and 23 hits. Those are still the records, along with most All-Star Games played (24 - tied with Musial), at bats (75), stolen bases (6), extra-base hits (8 - tied with Musial), total bases (40 - tied with Musial), and triples (3 - tied with Brooks Robinson). To quote Ted Williams: "They invented the  All-Star Game  for Willie Mays." Speaking of Williams...

1993 Ted Williams

#126 Willie Mays (GH)

It was poetic that Mays passed just days before the Giants and Cardinals played games at Rickwood Field, the same field Mays patrolled as a member of the Birmingham Black Barons as a teenager. Mays was the most prominent member left of the old Negro Leagues, and it's a sad reminder that there are not many former players left. According to MLB, all 157 surviving members (including Mays at the time) were invited to the game at Rickwood. MLB has taken big strides to preserve the memory of the Negro League and it's players, and hopefully more will be done in the future.

2015 Topps Heritage - Baseball Flashbacks

#BF-9 Willie Mays

In 1966, Mays became the all-time National League home run hitter, and has since been eclipsed only by his own godson Barry Bonds. He came in 3rd in MVP voting that year, behind Roberto Clemente and Sandy Koufax. It was the last of 13 straight years that Mays placed in the MVP vote. He only won twice, but arguments have been made that he should have won up to 8 MVP awards!

2016 Topps Archives

#286 Willie Mays

Mays was the last superstar from that Golden Age of baseball. The last of the inner-circle Hall of Famers. He may have been the greatest player of all time. His passing closes the book on a life that continued to impact the history of baseball over 50 years after he last played a game.

R.I.P. Willie Mays, and thank you.


  1. The post may've been difficult for you to do, but for what it's worth, I thought it turned out really well.

  2. You might only have one playing era card of Mays... but it sure is a great one. I'm going to head over to COMC to see if I can find an affordable copy.