The Bat, the Glove, the Arm, the Legs, and the Say Hey Kid: The Legacy of Willie Mays

The Bat

Willie Mays was a force to be reckoned with at the plate. Ranking sixth on the all-time home run list, his career total of 660 home runs was nothing short of extraordinary. Not just a power hitter, Mays accumulated 3,283 hits, positioning him 11th in that category, and boasting an impressive .302 career batting average.

"It was a different sound off his bat. One day, I got to the ballpark very early just to check out his bats. I went to the other dugout to see if they were different. They were heavy; they weren't different. He was different," shared Bobby Valentine.

Even opponents recognized the magnificence of Mays' batting prowess. Pete Rose lamented, "I felt sorry for Willie in a way, having to play at that s---hole Candlestick. If he played today in the bandboxes in Cincinnati and Philadelphia and some other places, he'd hit 70 homers a year. He was a good hitter. He loved to talk hitting."

Mays' keen focus and quick reflexes at the plate were also legendary. Joe Torre recounted, "Willie didn’t like to wait in the box. He wants you to throw the ball right now. One time, I tried to distract him by talking to him. I asked him a question at the plate, and while answering, he hit the ball out of the ballpark. Then he sort of made a half turn to me as he started to first base and told me, 'I'll finish the story later.'"

The Glove

Mays is equally legendary for his defensive prowess, winning 12 Gold Glove Awards throughout his career — a feat many believe could have been even greater. His speed, range, and baseball instincts set him apart in center field.

"He was the best center fielder in the game when he was 39 years old. It's truly amazing how long he was able to maintain his skills," praised Steve Stone.

Commenting on Mays' defensive strategy, Tim McCarver shared, "Curt Flood was the best I’ve ever seen against the wall. But Curt played deep. Willie didn't play deep; he played shallow. Willie was the wall."

More than just an outfielder, Mays showcased an extraordinary understanding of the game, calling pitches from center field. "Chris Speier told me Willie was calling pitches from center field for the pitcher to throw to a certain hitter. Those guys studied all the hitters back then. They didn’t need a scout," remarked Baker.

The Arm

Mays' arm strength was another hallmark of his game. His throws were both powerful and accurate, vital traits for a center fielder.

"You already knew there were guys that you never, ever ran on. You had respect for those guys. Willie charged the ball as well as anyone," noted Bench.

Adding further insight, Tim McCarver recalled, "Johnny Keane, the Cardinals manager, told us in meetings, 'Don't run on Willie; he will throw you out. He's baiting you. He wants you to think he can't, and then he does.' Willie figured it out."

Orlando Cepeda vividly remembered Mays' throwing prowess: "Willie caught the ball at the 390-foot sign in right-center field and he threw a low throw, on the line, in the air, all the way to third base. Willie had the greatest throwing arm I've ever seen, even better than Roberto Clemente's arm."

The Legs

Mays' baserunning skills further distinguished him from other power hitters. His speed and instincts on the bases made him a formidable opponent.

"He was a terror on the bases," emphasized Tim McCarver.

Baker added, "Willie would start to run to second on the wild pitch or a passed ball. Willie had great instincts on the bases."

Speaking to Mays' potential in the stolen base category, Bench highlighted, "You can say 29th in steals when he retired, but he could have easily moved into the top 10."

Reflecting on Mays' unique baserunning ability, Reggie Jackson declared, "Oh, hell, 40-40, that's nothing. I could have done 50-50 any time. I wanted to steal my bases when it mattered, for the team."

Orlando Cepeda echoed Jackson's sentiment, stating, "The greatest baserunner I've ever seen. I tried to mimic him, to do what he did on the bases. But I couldn't. No one could."

The Say Hey Kid

Beyond his on-field talents, Willie Mays was known for his charisma and character. Revered by both teammates and opponents, he left a lasting impression on everyone he met.

Ken Griffey Jr. reminisced, "The first time I met him I was 17, playing in the Instructional League. I missed the first two innings of the game because I was talking to Willie Mays. But my manager didn't care. He said, 'He's going to learn more talking to Willie Mays than he's going to learn playing in his damn game today. Let him talk as long as he likes.'

Joe Torre shared a humorous first impression, "Willie came to the door and said, 'Who is this?' Bill said, 'Willie, this is Bob Gibson.' Willie didn't say hello; he said, 'You wear glasses?! And you don’t wear them when you pitch? Are you crazy? You're going to hurt somebody!'

Juan Marichal fondly recalled, "The first time I met Willie was the day I was called up to the big leagues. He was so good to me, but he was so good to everyone."

"My rookie year in spring training, Willie came over to the A's bench and said, 'Where’s Reggie Jackson? I want to see Reggie Jackson.' I met him. That was a huge deal for me, for him to come to our dugout and ask for me. I got to shake his hand," shared Reggie Jackson.

Wrapping up with a lighthearted memory, Tim McCarver said, "I wrote in my book that Willie had the thickest fingers I have ever seen, and he buffed his fingernails every day. He came up to me and said, in that high-pitched voice, 'I heard that you said that I buffed my nails every day. You're right, I do!'"