Willie Mays ranked at #40? I recognize and fully accept Willie Mays was arguably the greatest player in baseball history. As a reminder, the purpose of this series was for me to rank MY "favorite" players, not rank the "best players".
I was 7 years old when Willie Mays retired following the Mets defeat in 1973 World Series. I can't honestly recall ever watching him play on TV. I have included him on this list because of how revered he is and the obvious joy and passion he brought to the game.
Mays grew up in segregated Birmingham, Alabama. He started his career as a teenage prodigy in the Negro Leagues. He became a cult hero in New York and the superstar headliner in baseball’s western expansion. With 3,383 hits, 660 home runs, and 338 stolen bases: he delivered a blend of power, speed and stylistic bravado that fans had never seen before or since.
The moment: September 29, 1954. World Series Game #1. Cleveland at New York Giants. Polo Grounds. Top of the 8th inning. Scored tied 2-2. No outs. Indians Larry Doby is on second base after leading off the inning with a walk and an Al Rosen single. Giants manager Leo Durocher has just brough in lefty Don Liddle to face Indians first baseman Vic Wertz. Wertz has already collected three his in the game. On a deep drive to center field, Willie Mays makes an amazing over-the-shoulder catch before spinning and throwing the ball back into the infield. Had the ball fallen safely, the Indians would have taken the lead 4–2 late in the game. But Mays' catch preserved a 2–2 tie, the Giants won the game in extra innings, and swept the World Series in four straight.