On This Date in Sports May 4, 1966: Willie Mays Milestone

in collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com


Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants sets the National League record for home runs as he hits number 512 passing Mel Ott. The home run comes in the fifth inning against Claude Osteen in a 5-1 win over the archrival Los Angeles Dodgers at Candlestick Park. Mays would become the first National League with 600 home runs but would be passed by Hank Aaron in 1972. Willie Mays retired a year later with 660 dingers. 

Willie Mays was born on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama. His father had played baseball at a local iron plant. Growing up, Mays was allowed to sit on the bench of his father’s industrial plant games. Willie Mays was a multisport star, and at the age of 17, signed to play in the Negro Leagues with the Birmingham Black Barons. In 1950, Mays signed to play with the New York Giants. He began his career with the Trenton Giants, before moving on to play with the Minneapolis Millers

On May 25, 1951, Willie Mays made his major league debut with the New York Giants. Mays struggled at the start of his career, going hitless in his first 13 at-bats before hitting his first career home run against future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn in a 4-1 loss to the Boston Braves on May 28th. Willie Mays would go onto win the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year, batting .274 with 20 home runs and 74 RBI. Willie Mays would miss much of the next two seasons, serving in the Army during the Korean War. 

When Willie Mays returned in 1954, he had become one of the best players in the game, winning the National League MVP with a career-high .345 average with 41 homers and 110 RBI. Mays would become a perennial All-Star, appearing in the midsummer classic a record 24 times. After guiding the Giants to a World Series Championship in 1954, Mays led the National League in home runs for the first time 51 dingers in 1955. 

The Giants would leave New York in 1957, settling in San Francisco. While fans in San Francisco never fully embraced Willie Mays, choosing Willie McCovey, who made his debut in 1959 instead, the “Say Hey Kid” remained one of baseball’s biggest stars. On September 13, 1965, Mays became the fifth player to reach 500 home runs, collecting the milestone against Don Nottebart in a 5-1 win over the Houston Astros at the Astrodome.  Mays hit a career-best 52 longballs in 1965 and won his second MVP award.

The milestone 512th home run also set a franchise record as Mel Ott had played with the New York Giants. In 1969 Mays became the second player in baseball history with 600 home runs against Mike Corkins in a 4-2 win over the San Diego Padres on September 22, 1969, in San Diego. Mays would slow up in his home run numbers, while Hank Aaron steamed past him in 1972, on the way to breaking Babe Ruth’s record of 714 career home runs. At the time of his retirement with the New York Mets in 1973, Mays ranked third all-time with 660 home runs.