From his remarkable combination of speed and power at the plate to his iconic defense in center field, Willie Mays is undoubtedly one of the best all-around players in Major League history.
He hit 660 home runs. He's a member of the 3,000-hit club. He won a batting title, four home run titles and four stolen base titles. He ranks among the all-time leaders in Wins Above Replacement. Perhaps most amazingly, Mays' numbers would have been even more remarkable had he not missed nearly two full seasons in the prime of his career while serving in the military.
In honor of Mays' 91st birthday on Friday, here's a look at 24 facts on No. 24's legendary career.
1) Club of his own: 50 homers, 20 triples
Mays was one of the best dual-threat players in MLB history, using his incredible blend of speed and power to torment opposing pitchers. He is one of just 30 players all-time to hit at least 50 homers in a single season and he's one of 86 players to rack up at least 20 triples in a season. Mays, however, is the only player who is a member of both clubs. Making it all the more incredible is the fact that Mays reached those plateus just two years apart, crushing an MLB-leading 51 homers in 1955 before pacing all players with 20 triples in '57. He later teed off for a career-best 52 homers in '65, making him one of just nine players in MLB history with multiple 50-homer seasons.
2) A game to remember: Four-homer barrage
Mays is one of just 18 players in Major League history to hit four home runs in a single game. On April 30, 1961, Mays went 4-for-5 with four homers and eight RBIs in a 14-4 win against the Braves at Milwaukee's County Stadium. Incredibly, Mays' four-homer effort came opposite fellow Hall of Famer Henry Aaron, who hit two long balls of his own in one of the best head-to-head slugging showdowns of all-time.
Mays hit his first two home runs -- a solo shot in the first and a two-run homer in the third -- off three-time All-Star and 1957 World Series MVP Lew Burdette. Mays kept the trend going with a three-run bomb off reliever Seth Morehead before adding a two-run shot off another All-Star pitcher, Don McMahon, in the eighth. Mays is the only member of the 600-home run club with a four-homer game.
3) A run like no other: 13 years of MVP consideration
Mays was the model of consistency from 1954-66, stringing together a 13-season run of pure excellence. He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award twice during that stretch -- first in 1954 and again in '65 -- but he was a yearly contender for the honor. In fact, he received a share of MVP votes each season from 1954-66 and he finished in the top 6 in 12 of those 13 years -- and in the top 3 six times.
4) Extra, extra!
It's no surprise that Mays received annual MVP consideration during that run, recording at least 70 extra-base hits in 13 straight seasons from 1954-66. No other player has 13 such seasons, consecutive or otherwise, in Major League history.
5) A league of his own
Mays accounted for at least 7.0 bWAR in each of those 13 seasons from 1954-66, the longest such streak in big league history. Lou Gehrig is the only other player to post at least 7.0 WAR in even 10 straight seasons (he did it for 11 from 1927-37). Overall, Mays racked up 124.1 WAR from 1954-66 -- 27.7 more than any other player during that span. Hank Aaron was second with 96.4 WAR, followed by Mickey Mantle at 90.0.
6) What could have been?
Amazingly, Mays went on that 13-season tear immediately after missing nearly two full seasons while serving his country. He played in only 34 games in 1952, then missed the entire '53 season after being drafted into the Army. Mays clearly didn't miss a beat upon returning in '54, leading the Majors with a .345 average and a .667 slugging percentage, while also racking up 41 homers, 110 RBIs and an NL-best 13 triples en route to earning his first NL MVP Award.
Despite missing what would have been his age-22 season entirely and playing only 34 games in his age-21 campaign, Mays ultimately finished his career with 660 home runs -- good for sixth on the all-time list. Still, it's hard not to wonder what he might have done with an extra 1,000 plate appearances in the early days of his career.
7) Star of stars
Mays was named an All-Star Game starter a remarkable 18 times, the most for any player in MLB history -- and he did it at one of the game's marquee positions, no less. The caveat to that number is that it includes four seasons (1959-62) in which there were two All-Star Games. Still, Mays started 14 straight All-Star contests from 1957-65 (including both games in each season from 1959-62).
8) His star shines brightest
Mays didn't just play in those All-Star Games -- he quite literally starred in them. He had at least one hit in 15 All-Star Games. Only five other players have even logged a plate appearance in that many Midsummer Classics. Needless to say, Mays' 23 overall hits are the most in All-Star Game history.
9) Golden defense
Along with being one of the game's most prolific hitters, Mays is widely regarded as one of the best defensive center fielders of all-time. Mays not only took home 12 Gold Glove Awards (the most by any center fielder), but he is also responsible for "The Catch" -- an iconic over-the-shoulder grab in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series that is universally considered one of the greatest defensive plays in MLB history.
10) Best vs. best: Mays tees off vs. HOFers
The two pitchers Mays faced the most (by far) in his career were a pair of Hall of Famers: Warren Spahn (253 plate appearances) and Don Drysdale (243 PAs). Yet neither could find an answer for Mays' prowess at the plate. "The Say Hey Kid" hit better than .300 against each pitcher, combining for a .318/.371/.596 slash line and 59 extra-base hits, including 31 home runs, against the Hall of Fame duo.
Mays faced 14 Hall of Fame pitchers overall, posting a .286 batting average and an .859 OPS over 1,319 plate appearances. He hit 56 of his 660 career homers off Hall of Famers, including 18 against Spahn, 13 against Drysdale, five against Sandy Koufax and four apiece against Robin Roberts and Fergie Jenkins.
11) Mays and Trout in class of their own
Mike Trout has often drawn comparisons to Mays due to the pair's consistency and dominance in center field -- and the two stand alone as the only players in Major League history with multiple seasons of at least a .320 batting average, 25 home runs and 30 stolen bases. Mays accomplished the feat in back-to-back seasons from 1957-58, posting a collective .340 average while averaging 32 homers and 34 stolen bases over those two campaigns.
12) Three is the magic number
Mays is one of 33 members of the 3,000-hit club, but he's the only player in MLB history with at least 3,000 hits, a .300 average, 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases. Mays, of course, exceeded some of those plateaus rather easily, finishing with 3,283 hits, 660 homers and 338 steals.
13) League leader in ... everything?
While some players consistently lead the league in a certain category -- whether it be home runs or stolen bases or triples -- it was nearly impossible to predict which stat Mays would ultimately lead his league in for a given season. Throughout his career, Mays claimed four home run titles, four stolen base titles and one batting title. He also led the NL five times apiece in OPS and slugging percentage; three times in triples; twice each in runs, extra-base hits and on-base percentage; and once apiece in hits and walks.
14) Founder of the 50-20 club
In 1955, Mays became the first player in Major League history to hit 50 home runs and steal 20 bases in the same season. It took 41 years for another player to repeat that type of production, and only three others -- Brady Anderson (1996), Ken Griffey Jr. ('98) and Alex Rodriguez (2007) -- have accomplished the feat to this day.
15) Forget 20-20, Mays sees 20-20-20-20
Mays is one of just four players -- along with Frank Schulte (1911), Jimmy Rollins (2007) and Curtis Granderson (2007) -- to record at least 20 doubles, triples, home runs and stolen bases in the same season. Mays accomplished the feat in 1957, when he racked up 26 doubles, 20 triples, 35 homers and 38 stolen bases. His .407 on-base percentage and .626 slugging percentage that season are the highest among any of the four players in this exclusive group.
16) Ranking among the best
Mays ranks third among position players with 156.2 bWAR, trailing only Babe Ruth (162.8) and Barry Bonds (162.1). That means Mays finished only 6.6 WAR shy of the all-time mark despite missing most of the 1952 season and the entire 1953 season while serving in the U.S. Army. Keep in mind that upon his return to the Majors in '54, Mays accounted for at least 7.0 WAR every season from 1954-66. An additional season along those lines in '53 could have been all Mays needed to lay claim to the highest WAR in Major League Baseball history.
17) All-around talent
Mays had three seasons in which he racked up at least 8.0 offensive bWAR and 2.0 defensive bWAR. The rest of the outfielders in MLB history have combined for exactly one such season (Trout, 2012). Even when removing the outfield qualifier, Mays' three such seasons are tied with Honus Wagner for the most in big league history -- and Mays and Wagner are the only players with more than one such season.
18) Now playing ... shortstop?
Though he was a Hall of Fame center fielder and spent some time at first base late in his career, Mays made an appearance at shortstop in one of the wildest games in MLB history. Facing the Mets in Game 2 of a doubleheader at Shea Stadium on May 31, 1964, Mays shifted from center field to shortstop to begin the bottom of the 10th inning. Though he did not see any action, Mays spent three innings at short before shifting back to center field for the remainder of San Francisco's 23-inning victory. He was just 1-for-10 at the plate, while fellow Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry earned the win after tossing 10 scoreless innings in relief. This marked one of two career appearances at shortstop for Mays, who played 2,832 games in center field, 83 at first base, 12 in right field, two in left and one at third base.
19) Three is good, four is better
Of the 28 players in the 500-home run club, none hit as many triples as Mays' 140. Only two other members of the club even topped 100 triples -- Babe Ruth had 136 and Jimmie Foxx had 125. Mays also ranks second within the 500-homer club in stolen bases (338), trailing only Barry Bonds (514).
20) 35-35 club
Mays made a couple bids at a 40-40 season, though that was one of the few feats he ultimately did not accomplish. Still, he finished with 36 home runs and 40 stolen bases in 1956, then followed it up with 35 homers and 38 steals in '57. He was the first player in MLB history with multiple 35-35 seasons, though he's since been joined by Bobby Bonds, Barry Bonds and Alfonso Soriano.
21) Split proof
For Mays, it didn't matter where he was playing or who he was facing -- he was going to produce. He had a .302 career average with 335 homers while playing at home, and a .301 career mark with 325 home runs on the road. As for opposing pitchers, he was a career .300 hitter with a .917 against righties, and a .305 hitter with a 1.006 OPS vs. lefties. Mays also had at least a .300 average and .925 OPS in every month except July (.280 BA, .870 OPS).
22) Coming through in the clutch
Mays often stepped up in big spots, posting a .966 career OPS in high-leverage situations. That ranks fifth all time, behind only Jimmie Foxx, Barry Bonds, Stan Musial and Henry Aaron. Mays also had 1,928 documented total bases in the seventh inning or later, second-most on record behind only Aaron (1,984).
23) 162-game averages
Even factoring in the decline over his final seasons, Mays' career numbers work out to 162-game averages of 36 homers, 103 RBIs and 18 stolen bases. That includes his season and a half with the Mets -- at ages 41 and 42 -- when he hit just 14 homers in 135 games. Keep in mind, he also averaged "only" 21 homers and 70 RBIs over his final five seasons with the Giants.
24) Superstar on and off the field
In 1971, Mays was named the inaugural recipient of the Commissioner's Award, which was later renamed the Roberto Clemente Award following Clemente's death in '72. The honor is given annually to the player who best represents the game of baseball through extraordinary character, community involvement, philanthropy and positive contributions, both on and off the field.