Willie Mays is baseball royalty and a true giant of the game. Mays turned 86 and celebrated both the anniversary of his major league debut and his first home run this month. The latter was appropriate, given that it's the month of May.
Tonight's Global Game telecast, pitting the Nationals against the San Francisco Giants, will pay tribute to Mays throughout and will include an interview with him during the game. It's important to know the history and the numbers behind an all-time great. To help prepare you for that, here are 24 stats to know about the story of the man who wore No. 24.
1) Mays hit .477 with 30 stolen bases in 35 games at the time of his recall from the Minneapolis Millers in 1951. Upon coming to the big leagues, he promptly went 1-for-26 in his first seven games.
2) That 1-for-26 included an 0-for-12 to start. His first hit was a home run off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. He'd hit 18 home runs vs. Spahn, his most off any pitcher, and Spahn’s most to any batter.
3) In A Tale of Two Cities, a video documenting the history of the Giants, the story was told of how Mays cried during his struggles, wanting to go home. “You’ll play Willie! You’ll play!” manager Leo Durocher said. Mays played 2,857 games for the Giants, most in franchise history. Only five players have played more games with a team than Mays: Hank Aaron, Carl Yastrzemski, Stan Musial, Cal Ripken Jr. and Brooks Robinson.
4) Mays was on deck when Bobby Thomson hit one of the most famous home runs in baseball history, The Shot Heard Round the World, to win the pennant in a three-game playoff with the Brooklyn Dodgers. Mays (then a rookie) admitted to being scared in the on-deck circle -- and for good reason. He was in a 2-for-30 slump.
5) Willie Mays received 75 percent of the vote for the 1951 Rookie of the Year award in the National League. The two players who also received votes combined for 19.8 career WAR: Chet Nichols (5.5) and Clem Labine (14.3). Mays finished his career with more than 156 WAR.
6) In the first 13 full seasons Mays played after returning from the military (1954-1966), he averaged 40 home runs, 109 RBIs and 21 stolen bases, with a slashline of .315/.390/.601. In that time, he totaled 124 Wins Above Replacement.
7) In 1957, Mays became part of a rare club as the third player in major league history with at least 20 home runs, 20 triples and 20 stolen bases in a season (the others were Buck Freeman in 1899 and Frank “Wildfire” Schulte in 1911). No one else hit that combination until 2007, when both Curtis Granderson and Jimmy Rollins did. No one has done it since.
8) Mays was described as a five-tool player (hit, hit for power, run, field and throw). At various points in his career, he led the NL in runs, hits, triples, home runs, stolen bases (both number and percentage), walks, batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
9) Mays won 12 Gold Glove Awards, tied with Roberto Clemente for most by an outfielder. He would have won more but for the fact that Gold Gloves weren’t awarded until 1957. His most famous catch came against Indians slugger Vic Wertz in the 1954 World Series, though Mays said he made better defensive plays than that one.
10) You don’t need modern metrics to show how amazing Willie Mays is, but they do show it. His 156.2 Wins Above Replacement rank fifth all time. He had six 10-WAR seasons, tied for second all time. Only one active position player even has two (Mike Trout).
11) Six of the eight times Mays led all position players in WAR (regardless of league), he had at least a 1.5 win edge on the next player. In 1965, his 11.2 WAR were 3.4 wins better than that of the next position player, Hank Aaron.
12) Appropriately enough, Mays' highest career slugging percentage for a calendar month came in May, at .592.
13) Mays’ last RBI was a go-ahead hit in extra innings for the Mets against the Athletics in Game 2 of the 1973 World Series. At age 42, he’s the second-oldest player with a World Series RBI, 23 days younger than Pete Rose.
14) Ted Williams once said “They invented the All-Star game for Willie Mays.” Mays was on the All-Star game roster in 20 seasons, tied with Stan Musial for second-most. Only Hank Aaron (21) appeared on the roster more.
15) Mays is one of five players who won multiple All-Star Game MVPs, along with Ripken, Steve Garvey, Gary Carter and Mike Trout.
16) Mays predominantly hit third, but he recorded at least 10 hits in each spot in the order from first to last. He has 2,236 hits at third in the order and 13 each in eighth and ninth.
17) Mays is one of 11 Hall of Famers born in Alabama and one of three Alabama natives with at least 500 home runs. Hank Aaron (755), Mays (660) and Mays’ longtime teammate Willie McCovey (521) are Alabama-born and hit 500 or more home runs. Mays is the only major leaguer born in Westfield, Alabama. Westfield has a population of just more than 2,200 people.
18) Mays had five career seasons with at least 10 triples. Only one active player has five or more such seasons: José Reyes (7).
19) Mays did not have a season in his career in which he played in at least 145 games and hit worse than .285. He had 14 such seasons. Only Mays' rival at the time, Hank Aaron, had more (15).
20) It if isn't already obvious, Mays was an important member of any lineup he was in. Overall, his teams went 1,643-1,345 when he played, a .550 win percentage. Mays' teams won pennants in 1951, 1954, 1962, 1971 and 1973. He, McCovey and Hall of Famer Juan Marichal also endured five consecutive second-place finishes from 1965 to 1969.
21) Mays is a member of the 3,000-hit club. He reached the mark on July 18, 1970, with a single off the Expos’ Mike Wegener. Mays finished with 3,283 hits, which ranks 11th all time. His 1,323 extra-base hits rank fifth all time.
22) Mays had 75 hits off Don Drysdale, his most off any pitcher. That’s the most hits Drysdale allowed to any single batter -- by 15 hits! Drysdale's second-highest total came off the bat of Roberto Clemente (60).
23) Willie Mays made $1.8 million in his career, and his highest salary was $125,000 in 1969 with the Giants. Inflation is of course an important caveat, but here are some Giants players making more than that this season: Nick Hundley, Aaron Hill, Will Smith, Brandon Belt, Eduardo Nunez, Matt Moore, Mark Melancon, Brandon Crawford, Madison Bumgarner, Denard Span, Hunter Pence, Jeff Samardzija, Matt Cain, Buster Posey and Johnny Cueto. Put another way, 15 players on the Giants' payroll this season are making more than Willie Mays did in his career.
24) Mays is inextricably linked to the number 24, but it isn’t the only one he has worn in the majors. During his first season in 1951, he wore both number 14 and number 24 at points. After that season, it was 24 all the way for The Say Hey Kid. He spent the most seasons in 24 of any other player in MLB history (since uniform numbers became worn across the majors and not just based on batting order or position in the late 1930s).