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Monday, June 21, 2004
Willie had it all the way
By Larry Schwartz
Special to ESPN.com


Signature Game
Sept. 29, 1954 - Mays and others believe he made better catches than his robbery of Vic Wertz. But because of the stage - Game 1 of the World Series - it is regarded as his greatest.

The game was tied 2-2 in the eighth inning when the Giants' Don Liddle relieved to face Wertz with runners on first and second and nobody out. The Cleveland Indians slugger cracked a drive to deep centerfield in the Polo Grounds, far over Mays' head. But Mays, traveling on the wings of the wind, raced after it. With his back to the infield, with his arms extended and his hands cupped, he caught the ball facing the right-centerfield bleachers, an estimated 450 feet from home plate. Then he swiftly pirouetted and, like a shot putter, threw the ball back in, losing his hat and his balance in the process.

"I had it all the way," the Say Hey Kid said later with a grin.

In the bottom of the 10th, Mays walked and stole second. After an intentional walk, Dusty Rhodes pinch-hit a three-run homer that gave the Giants a 5-2 victory on their way to a surprising Series sweep.

Mays by the numbers

Career Statistics
Year Tm/L AB Hits Runs BA HR RBI OBP SLG
1951 NY-N 464 127 59 .274 20 68 .356 .472
1952 NY-N 127 30 17 .236 4 23 .326 .409
1954 NY-N 565 195 119 .345 41 110 .415 .667
1955 NY-N 580 185 123 .319 51 127 .404 .659
1956 NY-N 578 171 101 .296 36 84 .371 .557
1957 NY-N 585 195 112 .333 35 97 .411 .626
1958 SF-N 600 208 121 .347 29 96 .423 .583
1959 SF-N 575 180 125 .313 34 104 .385 .583
1960 SF-N 595 190 107 .319 29 103 .386 .555
1961 SF-N 572 176 129 .308 40 123 .395 .584
1962 SF-N 621 189 130 .304 49 141 .385 .615
1963 SF-N 596 187 115 .314 38 103 .384 .582
1964 SF-N 578 171 121 .296 47 111 .384 .607
1965 SF-N 558 177 118 .317 52 112 .399 .645
1966 SF-N 552 159 99 .288 37 103 .370 .556
1967 SF-N 486 128 83 .263 22 70 .336 .453
1968 SF-N 498 144 84 .289 23 79 .376 .488
1969 SF-N 403 114 64 .283 13 58 .365 .437
1970 SF-N 478 139 94 .291 28 83 .395 .506
1971 SF-N 417 113 82 .271 18 61 .429 .482
1972 SF-N/NY-N 244 61 35 .250 8 22 .400 .402
1973 NY-N 209 44 24 .211 6 25 .304 .344
TOTAL 22 10,881 3283 2062 .302 660 1903 .387 .557
*Statistics in bold denote league leader

Odds 'n' Ends

  • Mays received $6,000 for signing with the Giants after graduating high school in 1950.

  • New York Journal American sportswriter Barney Kremenko said that in Mays' rookie season, the reticent Mays "would blurt 'Say who,' 'Say what,' 'Say where,' 'Say hey.' In my paper, I tabbed him the 'Say Hey Kid.' It stuck."

  • Mays' biggest booster was his first manager with the Giants, Leo Durocher. "I never taught him anything," Durocher said. "He taught me. Willie is the greatest player I ever saw. No doubt in my mind."

  • Three years before making "The Catch," Mays made "The Throw." On Aug. 15, 1951, he ran down Carl Furillo's drive in right-center, some 330 feet from home, wheeled, and threw out Billy Cox trying to score from third base. "It was a good play, but I got to see him do it again," Dodgers manager Charlie Dressen said after the 3-1 loss.

  • Mays was on deck when Bobby Thomson homered to win the 1951 pennant.

  • In 1954, "Say Hey" (the Willie Mays song) was recorded by the Treniers, with Mays singing background and Quincy Jones directing the orchestra.

  • From 1954-63, Mays batted lower than .300 just once (.296 in 1956). His highest averages were .347 in the team's first year in San Francisco (1958) and his National League-leading .345 in 1954.

  • When the Giants moved from New York to San Francisco, Mays was supplanted as a local icon by Orlando Cepeda. "This is the damnedest city," said Frank Conniff of the Hearst newspapers. "They cheer Khrushchev and boo Willie Mays."

  • On April 30, 1961, Mays hit four homers against the Braves (the first two off Lew Burdette) in a 14-4 victory in Milwaukee.

  • On the last regularly scheduled game of the 1962 season, Mays' homer off Houston's Dick Farrell in the eighth inning gave the Giants a 2-1 victory and enabled them to tie the Dodgers (1-0 losers) for first place.

  • In the playoff opener, Mays hit two homers. In the ninth inning of the deciding third game, he had a key single in a four-run rally as the Giants won, 6-4.

  • Hitting 37 homers in 1966 gave a 35-year-old Mays a total of 542. But he never hit more than 28 again, and had just 118 in his final seven seasons to finish with 660. (By comparison, Hank Aaron hit 245 homers after his 35th birthday.)

  • Only Mays, Aaron and Eddie Murray have 3,000 hits and 500 homers.

  • In Mays' first game after being traded by the Giants to the Mets, in 1972, his homer gave New York a 5-4 win over his former team.

  • Mays holds the record for most home runs in extra innings, 22.

  • Mays never homered in 20 World Series games. He batted just .239 with only six RBI in 71 at-bats as his teams won just once in four Series.

  • With 63 multi-homer games, Mays ranks fifth.

  • Mays, Aaron and Stan Musial played in the most All-Star Games (24). Mays also holds All-Star records for at-bats (75), hits (23), runs (20), triples (3, tied with Brooks Robinson) and total bases (40, tied with Musial).

  • Voted into the Hall of Fame in 1979, he was the ninth player to be so honored in his first year of eligibility. But when 23 of 432 baseball writers failed to vote for Mays, Dick Young wrote, "If Jesus Christ were to show up with his old baseball glove, some guys wouldn't vote for him. He dropped the cross three times, didn't he?"

  • Outside the main entrance to the Giants' new stadium, Pacific Bell Park, is a nine-foot tall statue of Mays finishing a powerful swing, his eyes cast upward following the path of the vanishing ball. The address of the stadium is 24 Willie Mays Plaza.





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