Happy 78th Birthday, Willie Mays

Muder_90.jpgBy Craig Muder

I can still see the pencil in my hand and the primitive cursive on the paper.

I’m in sixth grade in May of 1981, and we have a writing assignment. A biography about a famous person born this month. There is only one — in my baseball-filled mind — to consider.

Willie Howard Mays was born May 6, 1931, in Alabama…”

At that point, my memory fades. The paper is lost, the words gone.

5-5-09-Muder_Mays.jpgBut the feelings remain.

Even at 12 years old, I could recognize that another Willie Mays might be more than fate could provide. Twenty-eight years later, I am sure of it. Baseball will not see his like again.

What remains are the incredible numbers, the grainy film, the name “Vic Wertz” that instantly brings to mind one of the iconic plays in baseball history. As for the numbers, just the mention of “660 homers” is enough.

But consider this: During his 22-year big league career, Mays led the National League at least once in runs, hits, triples, home runs, stolen bases, walks, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and total bases. His 12 Gold Gloves would likely have been at least 15 had the award existed in his first five seasons. And for 13 straight years — 1954-66 — Mays finished in the top six of the NL MVP vote, save for the 1956 season (when he finished 17th).

“Best Ever” is not something easily formatted to the game of baseball. Too many facets, too many ways to be “best”. But if you work to exclude players from the “Best Ever” list, Willie Mays would be awfully difficult to vote off the island.

To Gloria Brown, who gave me a B+ on my Willie Mays essay: Thanks for the memory.

Happy birthday, Willie Mays.

Craig Muder is director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.

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