Happy birthday Willie Mays! My favorite baseball player (and my dad's).
Catching Willie Mays in a rundown is like trying to assassinate a squirrel with a lawnmower
- Bill James
Let's sing along on his birthday!
(L to R, Stan Musial (Cards), Mays, Vernon Law (Pirates), Eddie Mathews (Braves), Ken Boyer (Cards) in 1960, probably at the All-Star game) For more on Stan Musial and his role in welcoming black players into the major leagues see Earl & The Man.
And let's do a peak performance retrospective as we did recently with Eddie Collins. Willie's peak was a bit shorter - 13 seasons. After his rookie season in 1951, Mays spent two years doing military service, returning in time for the 1954 season. From then until the end of the 1966 season was a run of sustained brilliance with a higher peak than Collins. Here's what it looks like:
1954 - 1966 (figures in parens are number of seasons)
WAR Position Players: Top 4 for all 13 seasons; 11 seasons #1 or #2
Batting Average: Top Ten (9)
On-Base %: Top Ten (13); Top 5 (8)
Slugging: Top Five (13)
Runs: Top Ten (13), Top Five (11)
Total Bases: Top Five (13)
Home Runs: Top Ten (13), Top Five (11)
RBIs: Top Ten (12)
Walks: Top Ten (10)
Stolen Bases: Top Ten (10), Top Five (7)
OPS+: Top Ten (13), Top Five (12)
Putouts: Top Four (13), 10 seasons #1 or #2
Assists: Top Four (12), 7 seasons #1 or #2
Double Plays: Top Four (11), 7 seasons #1 or #2