The SF Giants are one of the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball history. While it took the team more than 50 years to win its first championship on the west coast, the organization consistently had some of the greatest players of their generation. Yet, as storied as the franchise’s history may be, the great Willie Mays may stand above them all as the greatest player in the team’s history.
Today, May 6, 2021, the Say Hey Kid turned 90 years old. It has now been nearly 49 years since he last played a game in a Giants uniform. Of course, his connection to the franchise has spanned far beyond his playing days. He remained close to the team and city of San Francisco in the years following his retirement, and when his godson Barry Bonds signed with the team in 1992, Mays was once again a mainstay at Giants ballgames.
To celebrate an all-time sports legend, we took a look back over Mays’ incredible career and found a few of his most incredible statistical feats worth remembering on this special day.
SF Giants legend Willie Mays turns 90:
Incredible feat number 1: Mays walked more than he struck out in 10 different seasons
Yes, it was a different era. Managers were not playing the platoon game like Gabe Kapler, and closers were not throwing 99 miles per hour, but I don’t care. Mays hit 660 career home runs playing home games at the Polo Grounds, where home plate was 483′ away from the center-field wall, and Candlestick Park, where freezing winds off the Bay turned plenty of should-be homers into routine flyouts. Yet, as one of the greatest power hitters of all time, Mays still put the ball in play at an incredible rate.
While strikeout rates were far lower throughout Mays’ career than today, the league still struck out about 13.5% of the time. Mays eclipsed 9.5% just three times in his first eight seasons and never struck out in more than 13% of his plate appearances until his sixteenth year in the bigs.
His contact was far from a symptom of an overaggressive approach. While the average hitter walked less than 9% of the time, Mays walked in at least 10% of his trips to the plate in 19 of his 22 seasons. On ten different occasions, he finished the year with more walks than strikeouts. An impressive feat for MLB players today by itself, when you pair it with his historic power-hitting ability, it becomes one of the most mind-boggling parts of his career.