The Legacy of Willie Mays: A Tribute to the Passing of a Baseball Great

A photo of a statue of Willie Mays in San Francisco
Willis Lam // Flickr

The history of baseball cannot go without certain names being mentioned. People like Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Henry Aaron, Jackie Robinson and Barry Bonds are all integral to the story, and are the players you have most likely heard of in terms of historical greats. Yet somehow under-represented in these conversations is a player I consider to be the greatest baseball player of all time, “The Say Hey Kid” Willie Mays.

A look at Mays’ career accolades alone could support the argument:

  • Rookie of the year in 1951
  • Two-time MVP in 1954 and 1965
  • 24 All-Star appearances
  • 12-time Gold Glove winner
  • Batting title winner in 1954
  • 1954 World Series winner
  • Over 600 home runs
  • Over 300 stolen bases
  • Over 3000 hits
  • 156.2 Wins Above Replacement

Baseball scouting defines player prospects using five tools: hitting, hitting for power, running, fielding and throwing. Using 2024 players as representations, the tools can be respectively attributed to Luis Arraez, Nolan Gorman, Evan Carter, Connor Joe and Nicky Lopez. All five of these players distinctly lack in the other four categories, but are elite in the tool they represent. As such, you can consider them “one-tool players”, and you can imagine how difficult it would be to be regarded as a five-tool player, an accumulation of tools of already established major leaguers.

Predictably, any five-tool players you could think of are etched in the annals of baseball history as truly special talents. The aforementioned Aaron and Bonds are included. Ken Griffey Jr. was the coolest guy in baseball and could do it all. For more recent examples, both Mike Trout and Mookie Betts are examples of players who have demonstrated every tool needed, and they are both considered some of the modern greats.

Mays’ career batting average is over .300. He has over 650 home runs and 500 doubles. He stole over 300 bases and legged out 141 triples. He played a stellar outfield defense to the point where his most recognizable clip is a catch in the outfield. Writer James Hirsch credits Mays as being the only modern player to score from first base on a single to left field. Without a doubt, he was a premiere athlete.

In the years since his career ended, he has been credited by countless athletes, some of them Hall of Famers themselves, as being the greatest athlete they’ve ever seen. Duke Snider, who entered the Hall of Fame the same year as Mays, famously said that Mays deserved to be entered by himself.

The near-unanimous praise he has received over the decades since his career ended could be documented forever and still somehow not be enough to properly understand the weight he carried as a ballplayer. He was a larger-than-life athlete at the time, and is an inspiration to players even now. The world is worse without him, and I hope he is rightfully included in the grander story of baseball for years to come.

Be the first to comment