Willie Mays Baseball Cards

51B-MAYSWillie Mays exploded on the baseball stage in 1951. Actually, things didn’t start out so smoothly for the Say Hey Kid.

Mays had only one hit in his first 26 At Bats for the New York Giants (a homer off of the Braves’ Warren Spahn) and presumed that his Major League career would quickly become a Minor League career.

Not so, said his manager Leo Durocher “As long as I’m the manager of the Giants, you are my center fielder.” When Mays joined the Giants in May of 1951, the ball club was in fifth place. Four months later, they had tied the Dodgers for the league lead, forcing a three-game playoff.

52-TOPPS-MAYSAfter splitting the first two games, the Giants trailed the Dodgers 4-1 going to the bottom of the ninth. Bobby Thomson hit “The Shot Heard Round the World” off Ralph Branca giving the Giants the National League pennant and a spot in the World Series against the Yankees. Willie Mays was in the on deck circle at the time.

Mays played in all six World Series games in the Giants’ 4 games to 2 loss to the Yankees. Mickey Mantle, the player Mays would perpetually linked to, was also playing in his first Fall Classic.

The linkage continued to the baseball card arena as Mays and Mantle were the focal points of the 1951 Bowman Baseball Card set. While not as expensive as Mantle, the 1951 Mays rookie card #305, is the second most valuable in the set.

The following year, both players would make their Topps debuts as Mantle’s card became THE iconic card of the set. Still, the 1952 Topps rookie card #261 of Mays is one of the company’s most coveted and expensive cards ever produced.

After being drafted (this time by the U.S. Army who outranked the Giants), Mays missed the majority of the 1952 season and the entirety of the 1953 season.

53T-MAYSDespite his absence on the playing field, Topps (unlike their primary competitor Bowman) produced a card of Mays in their 1953 set. The 1953 Topps #244 of Mays is a short-printed high number and the second consecutive Mays Topps card to top $2,000 in Near Mint condition.

Undoubtedly, Mays’ inclusion in the 1953 Topps series was attributable to the special relationship that he shared with Sy Berger of Topps.

In 1954, Mays was out of the Army and back with the Giants and National League pitchers paid the price. Mays blasted 41 homers while leading the league in batting with a stellar .345 average. He also captured the National League Most Valuable Player Award en route to the Giants first World Series Championship in 21 years.

The Giants 97-57 record was fine by N.L. standards, but their World Series matchup was against the 111-43 Cleveland Indians. In the eighth inning of Game 1, with the scored tied at 2 and two Indians on base, Willie Mays changed the course of the Series.

mays_catch copyVic Wertz hit a screaming liner to center over Willie’s head, yet Mays chased the ball down and made the most memorable catch in baseball history. Willie took his defensive masterpiece to an even higher level by whirling around and firing a strike to the infield to keep the baserunners’ advance to a bare minimum.

The Giants would go on to win the game in the bottom of the tenth inning and complete an improbable four game sweep of the heavily favored Indians.

Mays became the shinning star of the National League as the card releases of 1954 demonstrated. Willie was featured in the 1954 sets of Bowman, Topps, Red Man Tobacco, Stahl-Meyer Franks and the New York Journal-American.

This was also the year of Mays’ All-Star Game debut. He would be a fixture at the Midsummer Classic from 1954 through 1973.

58H-MAYSThese were truly the glory days of New York baseball with Big Apple fans arguing over who had the best centerfielder. The issue still remains unresolved with Giants fans (Willie Mays), Yankee fans (Mickey Mantle) and Dodgers fans (Duke Snider) despite the best efforts of Terry Cashman and his hit “Talkin’ Baseball.”

Mays’ legend would continue to grow in 1955 when he walloped 51 home runs and finished second in the National League in Stolen Bases.

It was becoming apparent that Mays was not just a 5-tool talent (hit, hit for power, field, throw and run), but a generational player who would go on to be one of the game’s greatest.

At one time or another, Mays would lead the league in virtually every offensive category; Batting Average (1954), On Base Percentage (1965 & 1971), Slugging Percentage (1954, 1955, 1957, 1964 & 1965), Runs Scored (1958 & 1961), Hits (1960), Total Bases (1955, 1962 & 1965), Triples (1954, 1955 & 1957), Home Runs (1955, 1962, 1964 & 1965), Base on Balls (1971) and Stolen Bases (1956-1959).

65T-MAYSWhile Mays was frustrating pitchers with his hitting and catchers with his base running, he was also depriving batters from countless extra base hits. Mays’ patented Basket Catch and cannon arm led to his 12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards.

Willie retired in 1973 after a season and a half with the New York Mets. His last regular issue trading card is the 1973 Topps #305 (one of my personal favorites), but his last playing era card is actually in 1974. Although uncredited on the card, the 1974 Topps #473 ’73 World Series Game #2 pictures Mays taking a cut against the A’s.

During his career, when it came to making Willie Mays baseball cards, the manufacturers followed The Kinks mantra of “give the people what they want.” Between 1951 and 1973, Mays was featured on almost 250 different trading cards, trailing only Mickey Mantle during the era.

73T-MAYS-AUTOWillie was a staple in virtually every Topps test and insert set; 1956 Topps Pins, 1960 Topps Tattoos, 1961 Topps Stamps, 1962 Topps Stamps, 1963 Topps Peel Offs, 1964 Topps Coins, 1964 Topps Photo Tatoos, 1964 Topps Stand-Up, 1967 Topps Punch-Outs, 1967 Topps Test Discs, 1967 Topps Stand-Up, 1967 Topps Who Am I?, 1968 Topps Game, 1969 Topps Plaks, 1969 Topps 4 in 1, 1971 Topps Greatest Moments and 1973 Topps Candy Lids.

Besides his annual appearance on Topps All-Star and League Leader cards, he was an almost annual subject on combo cards; 1958 Topps Rival Fence Busters (with Duke Snider), 1959 N.L. Hitting Kings (with Richie Ashburn), 1960 Master and Mentor (with Bill Rigney), 1962 Manager’s Dream (with Mantle), 1964 Giant Gunners (with Orlando Cepeda), 1967 Topps Fence Busters (with Willie McCovey) and the 1968 Super Stars (with Mantle & Harmon Killebrew).

When all is said and done, very few players can be mentioned with Mays. He was a unique blend of ability, desire and charisma. His final numbers of 660 HRs, 1903 RBIs .302 BA are phenomenal (and untainted by PEDs). It’s no wonder that Mays is a member of Baseball’s All-Time Team and still one of the most collected players of the 20th century.

If you have any Willie Mays baseball cards (produced between 1951 and 1973) to sell or any items on our baseball buy list, PLEASE CONTACT Mark Rubin at 914-725-2225 or via email at mark@amerlegends.com. A quick phone call is all it takes to get started.