In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Willie Mays becomes the second player with 600 career home runs, as his seventh-inning blast off Mike Corkins of the San Diego Padres gives the San Francisco Giants a 4-2 win at San Diego Stadium. The 1969 season would be the beginning of the end for the Say Hey Kid, as he missed 45 games, and hit just 13 home runs. Mays would retire in 1973 with 660 dingers.
Willie Mays was born May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama. His father was a talented baseball player in his own right playing on the all-black team at the iron plant he worked for. When Mays was 16, he began playing with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League in 1947. While playing for the Barons, Mays caught the eye of Major League scouts, Mays had an infamous tryout at Fenway Park, in which Boston Red Sox Owner Tom Yawkey a known racist objected to his presence. In the end, three teams took bids for purchasing Willie Mays from Birmingham, with the New York Giants beating out the Boston Braves and Brooklyn Dodgers.
After starting the 1951 season with the Giants affiliate in Trenton, New Jersey, Willie Mays made his debut on May 25th. His career began in inauspicious fashion as he went hitless in his first 12 at-bats, before hitting a home run over the roof of the Polo Grounds against Warren Spahn of the Braves. Mays would turn his season around and win Rookie of the Year honors, as the Giants overcame a 13-game deficit to win the pennant. When Bobby Thompson hit the “Shot Heard Around the World” Willie Mays was on deck.
Willie Mays would miss most of the 1952 season and all of the 1953 season, serving in the military as he served in the US Army, during the Korean War. During the War, Mays served most of his time at Fort Eustis in Virginia. Upon his return in 1954, Willie Mays had perhaps his finest season, winning the batting crown with a .345 average as he had 41 home runs and 110 RBI. Mays would be named National League MVP and helped the Giants win the World Series for the first time in 21 years.
In 1956, Willie Mays was the first National League member of the 30-30 club, hitting 36 home runs with 40 stolen bases. Over the years, no player was named to the All-Star Game more than Willie Mays as he played in the mid-summer classic 24 times, including all the seasons in which there were two games.
When the Giants moved to San Francisco, Willie Mays was able to experience a power surge, as he no longer had to contend with the unjust dimensions of the Polo Grounds. He would lead the National League in home runs, three times in four seasons, during the 1960s. Including 1965 when he won his second MVP and hit his 500th home run.
Mays entered the 1969 season, needing just 13 dingers for 600, but injuries hampered him all season, leading him to hit only 13. The 13th home run came with the Giants in a pennant race, as their 4-2 win enabled them to stay a half-game up on the Atlanta Braves at 87-67. However, San Francisco won just three of the final eight games and finished in second place, three games behind Atlanta 90-72.
That Braves win in the Western Division would be symbolic, as Hank Aaron hit his 600th home run in 1971 as Mays was in the twilight of his career. Willie Mays, meanwhile hit just 60 home runs over his final four years, retiring with the New York Mets in 1973 with 660 home runs. Aaron meanwhile broke Babe Ruth’s record.