January 23, 2013 by Matt Musico
There has been so much talk about no player getting voted into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame this year that I felt it’s necessary to talk about some who already have. When looking at the events that have taken place on January 23rd in past years, Willie Mays getting elected into the Hall in 1979 definitely took the cake for me. The “Say Hey Kid” earned 94.7% of the vote (409 out of 432) in his first year of eligibility, as it was a no-brainer that he would be a first ballot Hall of Famer.
My question is, how were there 23 voters that felt Mays wasn’t worthy of being enshrined in baseball immortality? We all know how good he was during his 22-year career, but let’s take another look. He hit .302/.384/.502 throughout his time with the Giants and the Mets; slugged 660 home runs, drove in 1,903 runs, scored 2,062 runs, collected 3,283 hits, including 523 doubles and 140 triples. Oh, and he was selected to 20 All-Star Games (19 in a row), won 12 consecutive Gold Gloves, the 1951 NL Rookie of the Year, two NL MVPs, and was in the top-6 for league MVP on ten other occasions.
Although that information alone is more than enough to state Mays’ case, I could go on and on for days about how he very well could be the greatest all-around player that has ever played the game. What’s more impressive is that he didn’t spend all winter training and getting ready for the upcoming season like ballplayers do today. I listened to an audiobook biography on Mays, and he said that players had to get jobs to get by in the winter months. Most of the time, Willie didn’t even pick up a bat again until he went south for Spring Training. Now, that shows you just how good he really was.
It’s inevitable that some voters in the BBWAA won’t put a checkmark next to a name that is a sure-fire Hall of Famer. Johnny Bench (96.4%) didn’t, neither did Tony Gwynn (97.6%) or Cal Ripken, Jr. (98.5%). Hell, not even Babe Ruth could convince all of the writers that he was worthy of the Hall of Fame (95.1% of the vote). One would think that for the writers that have this extreme privilege and power of deciding who goes into the Hall of Fame, they would jump at the chance to vote for someone like Mays, Ruth, Gwynn, or Ripken, just to be able to say, “I helped them achieve baseball immortality.” But, they don’t all follow that route. I mean, we did see someone vote for Aaron Sele (148-112, 4.61 ERA) this year, so that alone shows you what is going through some of their minds when filling out these ballots.
However, I digress. The point of this post is to honor one of the greatest players to ever put spikes on and don a Major League uniform. Although I never had the chance to watch Mays play in person, I am blessed enough to listen to the stories my 86-year-old grandfather has from when he used to watch him play.
My favorite is his description of watching “The Catch” unfold during the 1954 World Series. He was holding my mother while watching the game, who at the time was only four months old, and he claims that he helped hold her head up so she could watch one of the most breathtaking catches in World Series history. Growing up as a Giants fan before they left for San Francisco, I can still hear the excitement and sense of pride in his voice when he talks about it.
So, take a moment today to tip your cap to Willie Mays; he was one of the first to combine power, speed, and defensed, and there aren’t many that have been able to do it better than him.
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