Friday, January 1, 2021

#130 Willie Mays - New York Giants

Willie Howard Mays
New York Giants

Bats:  Right  Throws:  Right  Height:  5'10"  Weight:  170
Born:  May 6, 1931, Westfield, AL
Signed:  Signed by the New York Giants as an amateur free agent, June 20, 1950
Major League Teams:  New York Giants 1951-1952, 1954-1957; San Francisco Giants 1958-1972; New York Mets 1972-1973
Hall of Fame Induction:  1979

1959 Topps #464
In many ways, these posts covering the cards of well-known Hall of Famers are much harder to compose than the posts for the cards of short-time, little known players.  What could I possibly write here about Willie Mays, the "Say Hey Kid," that hasn't already been written or that properly pays tribute to one of the greatest baseball players of all time?

The first line of Mays' Hall of Fame plaque sums up his career fairly well:  "One of baseball's most colorful and exciting stars, excelled in all phases of the game."  Mays was the 1951 Rookie of the Year, the National League's MVP in 1954 and 1965, a 24-time All-Star (a record), a 12-time Gold Glove winner, and the batting champ in 1954, the same season he led the Giants to their first World Series title since 1933.  His Baseball Reference WAR of 156.2 is third all-time for position players behind his godson Barry Bonds and Babe Ruth.  Upon his retirement, he ranked third all-time in home runs (660), runs (2,062) and total bases (6,066).  Mays' #24 was retired by the Giants in 1972, and the World Series MVP trophy was renamed for him in 2017.

He played the game with joyful abandon, and I would have loved to have seen him play live.  This is the perfect card to kick off my 2021 series of posts of cards from the 1956 Topps set, my sixth active year with this blog, and what I hope is a healthy, happy and joyful year for anyone reading this.

Building the Set
Summer of 1983 or 1984 in Millville, NJ - Card #12
One of the Original 44, I recently re-told the story of how my Dad and I started collecting this set with the Ed Mathews (#107) post.  Given how many times I handled those 44 cards throughout the 1980s, it's amazing this card is still in the great shape it's in.

At some point in August 1987 before we purchased the first four cards to compliment the Original 44, I set about chronicling all the baseball cards in my growing collection that I considered to be "Oldies," or cards released between 1950 and 1969.  The list here (front and back) shows the result of this enjoyable summer exercise with this Mays card as the most expensive card in my collection at the time with a book price of $75.  This was followed in price by the 1966 Topps Mickey Mantle card, which will one day serve as the cornerstone of a 1966 Topps set I plan on completing, the 1956 Topps Yankees team card (#251) and the 1967 Topps Steve Carlton card.

This Mays card was (and still is) considered to be one of my most valuable treasures, and I couldn't believe then such a card had found its way into my collection.

The Card / Giants Team Set
Maybe this has been researched somewhere more thoroughly, but I can only assume the catcher in the photo is a Phillies catcher, and I'll further assume the play took place in early 1955.  Given the "Giants" across Mays' jersey, this would have been during a home game and the first instance of Mays scoring in what could have been a close play at the plate against the Phillies came in game two of a double header on April 17, 1955.  In the fourth inning, Mays scored on a Monte Irvin (#194) sacrifice fly with Phillies catcher Smoky Burgess (#192) behind the plate.  The large head shot photo of Mays was also used on his 1954 and 1955 Topps cards.  

The cartoon panels on the back of the card neatly summarize Mays' offensive and defensive prowess.  This card was reprinted in 1997 in three different sets - 1997 Topps Willie Mays Reprints, Reprints Finest and Reprints Finest Refractors.

1956 Season
Mays appeared in 152 games for the Giants, starting all but four of their games in center field.  The two players to receive starts in center for the Giants in 1956 other than Mays were Jackie Brandt with 3 games and Whitey Lockman (#205) with 1 game.  Mays nearly won the team's triple crown, leading with 36 home runs and 84 RBIs, but his .296 average fell a few points short of Brandt's .299.  Mays' 40 stolen bases led the league and started a streak in which he'd lead the league four seasons in a row.  On May 6th, his 25th birthday, he stole four bases against the Cardinals.  To go along with his power and his defense, Mays added speed on the base paths to his tool box, bringing back the stolen base as an offensive weapon for the first time since the days of Ty Cobb. 

Mays went 1 for 3 in the All-Star Game, hitting a home run off Whitey Ford (#240) in the fourth inning.

1951 Bowman #305
1954 Topps #90
1961 Topps #579
1965 Topps #250
1973 Topps #305

Other Notable Baseball Cards

First Mainstream Card:  1951 Bowman #305
Topps Flagship Set Appearances (25):  1952-1975, 1986
Most Recent Mainstream Card:  2020 Topps Archives #297

So far within the 1956 Topps set, only Hank Aaron (#31) has appeared in more Topps flagship sets than Mays, with 28.  Roberto Clemente (#33) and Chuck Tanner (#69) have both appeared in 23.

2,088 - Mays non-parallel baseball cards in the Beckett online database as of 11/29/20.

Baseball Reference
Beckett Database
National Baseball Hall of Fame
The Trading Card Database


  1. Good card to see on the first day of 2021. I should set getting this card as an objective for the new year in my '56 set quest.

  2. And Willie appears on Hank Aaron's card in this set, too. It's amazing that the image slipped past the photo editor (assuming there was one).

  3. I could forgive Topps for confusing the photos of two lesser known players - but Aaron and Mays, that's tough to do. I wrote about Mays' cameo on Aaron's card a few years ago.

    And Night Owl - Good luck with the quest and I hope you meet your goal this year!