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 Willie Mays Rookie Rc #305 Psa 5 Ex (pwcc)1951 Bowman Set Break #305 Willie Mays Psa 2 Good 23051c(599)1969 Topps Starter Lot! Loaded With Stars! Mays, Aaron! Exmt+/nm! Bv $2006!1956 Topps #130 Willie Mays Giants Bgs Bvg 8.5 Well Centered *6179771957 Topps #10 Willie Mays Giants Psa 8 Well Centered *6179581951 Bowman #305 Willie Mays New York Giants Rc Rookie Hof Csa 7 Nm Willie Mays Signed Baseball Autograph Say Hey Hologram San Francisco Giants Hof1952 Topps Willie Mays #261 Sgc 6/80 Exmt (pwcc)Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Eddie Murray 3500 Club Signed Autograph Bat "47/50" Loa2001 Topps Team Legends Auto Willie Mays Mets Bgs 10 1956 Topps Setbreak Willie Mays #130 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1960 Topps Psa 8 Set Break #200 Willie Mays Giants Psa 8 *6175611960's Willie Mays San Francisco Giants Bobblehead Nodder, Bobble Head1962 Topps #300 Willie Mays San Francisco Giants Bvg 7.5 Nm+Willie Mays Single Signed Autographed National League Baseball Giants Say Hey1963 Topps Setbreak Willie Mays #300 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1953 Topps #244 Willie Mays Hof New York Giants 1953 Topps Willie Mays Short Print #244 Psa 4 Vgex (pwcc)1952 Topps Willie Mays #261 Psa 4 Vgex (pwcc)Willie Mays 1954 Topps #90 - New York Giants - Mint Condition!!!1955 Bowman Complete Set 1-320 G/vg Mantle Psa 2.5 Banks Psa 3 Aaron Mays 1962 Topps Psa Set Break #18 Managers Dream W/ Mickey Mantle & Willie Mays Psa 71,000+ Card Lot Of High End Vintage Baseball (mantle, Mays, Koufax) - Lot #71959 Topps #50 Willie Mays Giants Psa 8 Well Centered *6179601955 Bowman #184 Willie Mays New York Giants Hof Psa 7 Nm 1957 Topps #10, Willie Mays, Psa 7 Nm, Hall Of Fame (hof)Willie Mays Signed Autographed Baseball Sweet Spot Auto Psa/dna 8.5, Coa (pwcc)1963 Topps Lot Of 16 Ct* - Willie Mays/hank Aaron/mickey Mantle/roberto Clemente1,000+ Card Lot Of High End Vintage Baseball (mantle, Mays, Aaron) - Lot #11962 Topps #300 Willie Mays San Francisco Giants Bvg 7 Nr-mint *clean/vibrant*1963 Topps Setbreak Hank Aaron Willie Mays Ernie Banks Ldrs #3 Psa 8 Nmmt (pwcc)1,000+ Card Lot Of High End Vintage Baseball (mantle, Mays, Williams) - Lot #6Willie Mays Signed 16x20 Photo "sey Hey" Coa Hologram Mlb Hof Giants Mets 1969 Topps Willie Mays #190 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1963 Topps Willie Mays - Psa 8 - Centered Perfectly! Beautiful Key Card!1,000+ Card Lot Of High End Vintage Baseball (mantle, Clemente, Mays) - Lot #111960 Topps Set Break #200 Willie Mays Nr/mint 18669c1,000+ Card Lot Of High End Vintage Baseball (mantle, Aaron, Mays) - Lot #91,000+ Card Lot Of High End Vintage Baseball (mantle, Mays, Gibson Rc) - Lot #121960 Topps #200 Willie Mays San Francisco Giants Hof Sgc 84 Nm 7Willie Mays "the Catch" 2010 Bobblehead Sf Giants New In BoxWillie Mays Autographed Baseball With Coa1,000+ Card Lot Of High End Vintage Baseball (mantle, Mays, Clemente) - Lot #21,000+ Card Lot Of High End Vintage Baseball (mantle, Mays, Carlton Rc) - Lot #4Willie Mays Autograph Nl Full Signed Stat Inscribed Baseball Hof Mvp Giants SgcSuper Stars (mantle Mays Killebrew) 1968 Topps #490 - Phenomenal!!! Sharp!!!(40)1969 Topps Deckle Edge Lot! Mays, Gibson, Yastrzemski, And More! Bv $136.50!1961 Topps Clemente Mays Mickey Mantle Stan Musial Robinson Hi #'s Uncreased Lot1973 Topps Complete Set -1 (no Schmidt) Ex Cond 659/660 Hof's, Mays Rose BenchLot(21) 1969 Topps Super W/ Mantle Clemente Mays Mccovey, Ex To Nrmt (pwcc)1969 Transogram Statues Cards #34 Willie Mays Bvg 8.5 Low Pop 1/1 Highest Graded1960 Topps #200 Willie Mays San Francisco Giants Bvg 7 Nr-mint *clean/vibrant*1969 Topps Near Set Lot 497/664 W/mantle Ck List,mays, Aaron, Clemente Vg/ex-ex+Willie Mays 1968 Topps #50 - San Francisco Giants - Beautiful!!! Sharp!!!1964 Topps #150 Willie Mays Psa 8.5 Nm-mt+ San Francisco GiantsHank Aaron Stan Musial Willie Mays Autographed Total Bases Ball #02/600 Jsa Coa1956 Topps #130 Willie Mays Hof Giants Psa 7 Nm1955 Bowman Baseball Complete Original Set 1-320 Mantle Mays Aaron Berra - Nice1958 Topps #5 Willie Mays Giants Hof Psa 6 Ex-mt 1968 Topps Super Stars Mantle Mays Killebrew #490 Baseball Card Nr-mt Con "nice"