Willie Mays

Willie Mays/AP
Willie Mays/AP

Willie Mays was born in Westfield , AL. As a teenager he played for the Birmingham Black Barons. In 1951, Willie was signed to play with the New York Giants and become what many would call the "best baseball player ever."

The talented Mays could run, throw, hit for power and hit for average with equal superiority in all phases of the game. He had 3,283 hits, scored 2,062 runs, hit 660 home runs and had a lifetime batting average of .301. He played in at least 150 games for 13 consecutive seasons.

Mays was an all-around athlete at his Birmingham High School. Besides baseball he played basketball and football. He played for the Birmingham Barons and then his contract was purchased by the New York Giants. The big league team called him up from Triple-A Minneapolis in May 1951. Mays started off slowly going 0-12. When he did get his first hit it was a home run. Mays would be on deck when Bobby Thompson hit his "shot heard round the world" in the ninth inning that beat the Dodgers for the N.L. championship.

In 1952-1953 Mays served in the army. His return in 1954 sparked the Giants. He hit .345 with 41 home runs and 110 rbi's. The most remembered play of the year was Mays' outfield catch in the 1954 World Series. People still remember Mays running with his back to home plate and snagging Indian first baseman Vic Wertz's drive to deep center field.

He won four consecutive stolen-base titles from 1956 through 1959. He stole 338 bases in his career. In 1957 Mays had 20 or more doubles, triples, home runs, and stolen bases.

In 1962 with the San Francisco Giants (the New York team moved west following the 1957 season) Mays had 49 home runs as the Giants tied the Dodgers for first place on the last day of the season and captured the pennant in a three-game playoff before losing the World Series to the Yankees in a seventh-game 1-0 squeaker.

On May 4, 1966, Mays passed Mel Ott's 19-year-old record of 511 National League home runs and finished his career with a total of 660, ranking him third on the all-time list behind Henry Aaron's 755 and Babe Ruth's 714.

As a center fielder Mays recorded 7,095 putouts, a major league record.

In May 1972, the fading Mays was traded to the Mets. Mays was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979. However, because of his work with a hotel casino, Mays was barred from baseball employment by Commissioner Bowie Kuhn. The ban was lifted in 1985.