Few baseball players had the raw talent of William Howard “Willie” Mays, Jr. Known to fans as the “Say Hey Kid,” Mays broke into the Major Leagues in 1951 after four years in the Negro Leagues. As a member of the New York Giants, he quickly showed that he could do just about anything on a baseball field. He had Babe Ruth-like power, Ty Cobb-like speed, and probably the best defensive skills of any outfielder of his day.

The bulk of Mays’ most desired vintage collectibles come from his early years in the Majors, prior to the Giants’ move to San Francisco in 1957. Not surprisingly, Mays’ lone rookie card, a 1951 Bowman, is his most sought-after card. Despite the card's inherent beauty—it shows a stoic Mays standing at the ready, bat in hand—this horizontal card is rarely found in high-grade due to very bad centering.

The 1951 season started slow for Mays, but he turned things around and managed to win the National League Rookie of the Year award. In contrast, 1952 was not a good year for Mays on the field. He struggled early in the season before being drafted by the U.S. Army. Mays would miss most of the 1952 season and all of 1953 serving in the Army. Mays was not sent to fight in the Korean War, however. He was instead assigned to play baseball for the Army in Fort Eustis, Virginia.

Despite his poor performance and absence from the diamond, 1952 was a banner year for Mays baseball cards. Three companies printed Mays cards that year—today they remain some of his most popular. The most collectible of the three is the 1952 Topps. It was the first Mays Topps card and is part of the famed 1952 Topps set, which some collectors consider to be the preeminent baseball card set ever printed. The Mays Topps card is not an especially difficult find, yet it remains desired. It features a memorable enigmatic portrait on its front—it shows a young Mays in uniform, looking disgusted at the camera.

Mays’ 1952 Bowman has become more popular in recent years, although it still does not command the attention of his ’52 Topps. The card shows Mays at bat, with his signature scrawled across the middle. Interestingly, the signature on this card does not look anything like the signatures that appear on baseballs he autographed later in his career.

The third 1952 Mays card was part of Red Man Tobacco’s inaugural set. These Red Man cards are strange. For one thing, they are large compared to other baseball cards (3 ½” by 4”), and they came sealed in plastic with a perforated tab at the bottom. The tab served as a coupon for a baseball hat. A lot of people, it seems, were interested in that hat, so Mays cards with the tab still attached are considered more valuable than those with the tab removed.

Mays’ second most collected card, after his rookie card, came from the 1953 season that he missed. It was a 1953 Topps, and it's absolutely stunning. The front of the card shows ...

In 1954, Mays returned to the Major Leagues and had quite possibly his most memorable season. Mays hit a career-high .345, won the National League's Most Valuable Player Award (MVP), and won his only World Series title. It was in Game One of that World Series that the Cleveland Indians’ Vic Wertz blasted a shot to deep center field at the Polo Grounds, only to watch in disbelief as Mays ran it down and caught the ball basket-style over his shoulders. That catch is widely considered the greatest defensive play ever and is known to baseball fans as “The Catch.”

Off the field, Toy Development Co. released a board game in 1954 entitled “Say Hey! It’s Willie Mays’ Own Baseball Game.” The game, which featured three spinners—one each for the batter, pitcher, and fielder—is highly collectible. Four years later, in 1958, a similar game called “Willie Mays ‘Say Hey’ Baseball Game” was put out by Centennial Games. It, too, is prized by Mays collectors.

From 1954 on, Mays was one of the best players in baseball, year in and year out. After the 1957 season, the Giants’ days in New York were over as they packed up and shipped west to San Francisco. Although he never won a title in San Francisco and it took fans a bit of time to warm to Mays—largely because of the town’s love for local boy Joe DiMaggio—today Mays is largely considered the most popular player ever to put on a San Francisco Giants uniform.

Mays’ played in San Francisco until midway through the 1972 season, when he was traded back to New York, where he was still adored, to finish his career with the New York Mets. Mays played parts of two seasons with the Mets before retiring in 1973, having appeared in 20 All-Star games, won 12 Gold Gloves, and hit 660 home runs.

Other Mays memorabilia includes anything autographed with his distinct signature, which looks like it is full of “T’s.” Autographed baseballs are especially popular. Other desired items include statues, figurines, and game-used jerseys. His jerseys from his time with the New York Giants are naturally more collectible than those from San Francisco.

Mays has remained in the spotlight in recent years because his godson, Barry Bonds, took up his star in San Francisco. Although they are difficult to come by, artifacts that have the signatures of godfather and godson are popular with collectors, especially collectors of Giants paraphernalia.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Old Cardboard

Old Cardboard

Check out this well-organized collection of 500 sets of baseball cards, each over 50 years old. Browsable by type a… [read review or visit site]

The Baseball Card Blog

The Baseball Card Blog

Ben Henry's lively vintage baseball card blog, started in January 2006, offers hundreds of great posts on (and pict… [read review or visit site]

Cardboard Junkie

Cardboard Junkie

Dave Campbell's in-depth blog on old baseball (and some football) cards lives up to it's motto: 'do cards, not drug… [read review or visit site]

Baseball Cards 1887-1914

Baseball Cards 1887-1914

Roll up your socks for this Library of Congress collection showcasing hundreds of players on colorful early basebal… [read review or visit site]

Baseball Hall of Fame

Baseball Hall of Fame

A home run for baseball collectors, this site features special online exhibits, ranging from a baseball-uniforms da… [read review or visit site]



Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

1951 Bowman Set Break #305 Willie Mays Rc Psa 4 Vg/ex 50507c1973 Topps Hi-grade Complete Set Clemente Mays Ryan Aaron Rose Schmidt Rc (pwcc)1971 Topps Mid-hi Grd Complete Set Munson Ryan Clemente Banks Mays Aaron (pwcc)Huge Vintage Baseball Card Lot: 1967 Mickey Mantle,1958 Willie Mays, Hank Aaron1956 Topps Willie Mays Hof #130 - New York Giants - Psa 8 Nm-mtWillie Mays 2004 Topps Originals Auto Autograph 24/25 1972 Vintage Sp Giants1953 Topps #244 Willie Mays Psa 42012 Topps Archives Auto On Card Willie Mays Bgs 9.5/10 Gem Mint Mlb Nfl Lot 55 Auto Autograph Jersey Patch Ripken Willie Mays Manning Griffey∎ 1959 Topps Baseball Card Willie Mays #50 **breathtaking**1958 Topps Willie Mays #5 Psa 7 - No Reserve!!!1973 Topps Babe Ruth Hank Aaron Willie Mays All-time Hr Ldrs #1 Psa 8.5 (pwcc)1951 Original Photo Ny Giants Team Willie Mays Rookie & Giants Win The Pennant1964 Original Photo Willie Mays & Sandy Koufax All-star Game At Shea Stadium1960 Topps #200 Willie Mays Hof San Francisco Giants Psa 8 Nm-mtWillie Mays San Francisco Giants Sga The Catch Bobblehead 2010 Brand New∎ 1958 Topps Baseball Card Willie Mays #5 **superb**1953 Topps #244 Willie Mays Psa 3Willie Mays 1997 Topps Mays 1964 Reprint On Card Autograph Giants Auto Sp $225Willie Mays Signed Autographed Auto Roml Baseball Psa Authentic Giants1956 Topps Willie Mays Baseball Card #130 Graded Psa 3 Vg Gray Back Ny GiantsWillie Mays Single Signed Baseball Autograph Jsa Loa San Francisco Giants Hof 500 Hr Club Autograph Baseball Mantle Mays Williams Aaron !!!!!!Vintage Graded Lot Bb Fb Mays Banks Ditka Brown Gibson Bvg Bgs Graded Auction!!!Willie Mays Signed Baseball Autograph Psa/dna Coa San Francisco Giants HofWillie Mays Signed Autographed Custom San Francisco Jersey Say Hey Hologram1955 Topps #194 Willie Mays Giants Bvg 3 Very Good Graded1965 Topps #250 Willie Mays Bvg 7 Centered & SharpWillie Mays 1955 Bowman Baseball Card #184 Original Card Good Condition!! 1954 Original Photo Willie Mays New York Giants Home Run - The Man Of The Hour1954 Bowman Set Break # 89 Willie Mays Psa 6 Ex-mt Z25597Willie Mays Signed Official National League Baseball Mint!1954 Bowman Willie Mays #89 Good Giants Hof Creases F/b1966 Topps Baseball Rub-offs Lot (18) W/ Sandy Koufax Willie Mays Mccovey1970 Kellogg's Complete Set Clemente Rose Jackson Mays Seaver Bench Banks Nr $59Willie Mays Hayes Bobblehead Akron Rubberducks Aeros Major League Movie NewStan Musial / Willie Mays / Duke Snider Autographed 8x10 Photo .....certifiedMattel Instant Replay Record Player Still Sealed In The Box Alcindor Mays Starr1954 To 1965 Orig Odd Ball Baseball Cards X 10.koufax, Clemente, Dimaggio, Mays+1952 Bowman Baseball Card #218 Willie Mays Psa 4 Vgex1962 Topps #18 Managers' Dream Willie Mays Mickey Mantle Hof Psa 7 Nm1960 Topps All Star #564 Willie Mays Hof San Francisco Giants Psa 8 Nm-mtMattel Instant Replay Record Player Still Sealed In The Box Alcindor Mays Starr1961 Post Willie Mays Auto2004 Finest Moments Willie Mays Auto #wm Bgs 8.5 Nm-mt+ (pwcc)San Francisco Giants Willie Mays Signed Gray Jersey With Mays Say Hey HologramWillie Mays 2003 Topps Team Topps Legends On Card Autograph Giants Auto SpWillie Mays Signed Autographed Auto Sf Giants Jersey "660 Hr" Say Hey Holo Sz 521957-1976 Topps Hof Lot: Mays Snider Rose Kaline Ford Mathews Killebrew Mccovey1953 Topps Willie Mays #244 ... Graded Psa 2(mk)Willie Mays Autographed Baseball Sgc Authenticated Coa & Sticker Hof1963 Fleer Set Break # 5 Willie Mays Nr-mint Z289202015 National Convention Vip 1953 Bowman Color Pack Lot (25) Mays Banks Kaline2002 Topps Archives Reserve Refractor Willie Mays Giants Dual Jersey 1955 Topps Set Break #194 Willie Mays Psa 5 Ex Z281131954 Bowman #89 Willie Mays Giants Psa 5.5. Well Centered, Very High End500 Home Run Club 11 Autograped Aaron Mantle Banks Mays Photo R Lewis Art SignedWillie Mays 1961 Topps #150 Sgc Graded 84 Near Mint 7 Centered Nice! GiantsHuge Lot 150+baseball Cards Auto Relic Rookie Trout Bryant Mays Superfractor 1/11954 Bowman #89 Willie Mays New York Giants Hof Psa 4 Vg-ex