NEW YORK -- Willie Mays is the greatest living baseball player, and no one is going to argue with that.
Leo Durocher, Mays’ former manager in the early 1950s, was spot on when he described Mays as a five-tool player. Mays spent a career frustrating his opponents with his fancy basket catches in center field, while his speed made Road Runner look slow.
“The Say Hey Kid” stole 338 bases and had unmistakable power; he managed at least 30 homers in 11 seasons and at least 100 RBIs in 10 seasons. Runners had to think twice before challenging Mays’ arm as well -- just ask Cleveland, which couldn’t score on a deep fly ball hit by Vic Wertz in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series.
People talk about Mays’ over-the-shoulder catch on that play, but he often talks about the subsequent throw that prevented Larry Doby from tagging up and scoring from second base.
What Mays has accomplished on the diamond was recognized on Thursday, 48 years after he played his final baseball game. Baseball Digest presented Mays with its inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award.
The new award -- the game’s only such honor to be presented annually on a national basis -- recognizes a living individual whose career has been spent in or around Major League Baseball and who has made significant contributions to the game. The selection was made by a distinguished panel of 12 longtime MLB participants and observers via independently submitted votes. The voters included former Major Leaguer Harold Reynolds, Pirates play-by play voice Greg Brown and Mets executive Jay Horwitz.
“Baseball Digest was honored to cover and celebrate Willie Mays for the duration of his incredible career, and we are equally honored to celebrate an entire lifetime of contributions to baseball,” Baseball Digest publisher Norman Jacobs said in a statement. “Just as he thrilled us during a Hall of Fame playing career that spanned four decades, Willie has exemplified the best qualities of our game and our country in the nearly 50 years since his retirement.”
Mays will make his fourth appearance on a Baseball Digest cover. He has previously appeared on the covers of the September 1954, February 1966 and May 1971 covers.
“I never worried about personal awards. I worried about winning. But to be honored with this Lifetime Achievement Award, that’s a great honor, especially with all the other great names [considered],” Mays said in a statement. “All deserving. It’s a sports award, it’s a baseball award, but it’s much more. It’s about all the things you do. For me, it’s about helping kids and making sure they’re taken care of, because so many people took care of me in my life.”
With recommendations from the voting panel, a preliminary list of 23 candidates for the inaugural honor was compiled.
After an initial vote, the list of 23 was cut to six finalists: Hank Aaron, Roland Hemond, Willie Mays, Rachel Robinson, Vin Scully and Joe Torre. From these six finalists, each voter selected three names, with votes then tabulated on the following basis: 3 points for first place, 2 points for second place and 1 point for third place.