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    

500 Home Run Club Psa/dna Letter Mantle William Mays Aaron Robinson Jackson Vintage Willie Mays Macgregor M11k Model Baseball Glove Sf Giants HofNewport County V Birmingham City 1946/7 ~ May 26 Delayed Due To Bad Winter Joe Dimaggio & Willie Mays Signed 8x10Manchester Utd V Aberdeen May 1951 FriendlyUefa Under 17 Championships Croatia 2017- May 2017- Official ProgrammeHibernian V Rapid Vienna May 1951 Festival Of BritainWolverhampton V Southampton Southern League 9th May 1952Speedway Star Magazine - May 6, 2017 - Vol 66, No. 91955 Bowman Complete Set 1-320 Vgx/ex Mantle Psa 4 Banks Aaron Psa 5 Mays Sgc 52002 Topps Co-signers Classics Hank Aaron & Willie Mays Auto Card1951 Bowman Willie Mays Rookie High #305 ... Graded Sgc 401952 Topps Set Break #261 - Willie Mays Sgc 60 Ex 5 H105371961 Topps Mid-grade Complete Set Mays Mantle Clemente Koufax Yaz Santo Dale Earnhardt Jr. #88 Front Fascia - May 2017 Kansas - Dew-s-a Scheme1966 Topps #1 Willie Mays San Francisco Giants Hof Psa 8 " First Card In Set "1969 Topps Baseball Cards Complete Set Lot Mantle Ryan Mays Aaron Vg Ex+Dale Earnhardt Jr. - #88 Quarter Panel - May 2016 Kansas1965 Topps #250 Willie Mays New York Giants Hof Psa 8 Nm-mt 1953 Topps Set Break #244 Willie Mays Sgc 55 Vg/ex+ 4.5 H105501960 Nl All Stars Team Signed Baseball W Roberto Clemente Mays Aaron Hof Sgc Loa1953 Topps Set Break #244 Willie Mays Sgc 50 Vg/ex 4 H122091957 Topps #10 Willie Mays Hof New York Giants Psa 7 Nm1955 Topps #194 "willie Mays" Hi# H.o.f. (giants) High Grade (nrmt-mt) No Rsrv. 1952 Bowman - Willie Mays Hof #218 2nd Year - Psa 11956 Topps #130 Willie Mays Psa 6 Ex-mt1963 Topps #300 Willie Mays Hof San Francisco Giants Psa 8 Nm-mtHuge Vintage Baseball Card Lot: 1964 Mickey Mantle,1956 Hank Aaron, Willie Mays1968 Topps #50 Willie Mays Hof San Francisco Giants Psa 8.5 Nm-mt+ Centered1959 Topps Vintage Baseball 719 Card Lot--mantle/maysWillie Mays Barry Bonds Auto San Francisco Giants Signed Jersey Say Hey AuthAstonishing Vintage Baseball Card Lot W/ 67 Banks, 70 Ryan, Rose, Aaron, Mays1963 Fleer Psa 8 Willie Mays1955 Topps #194 Willie Mays Hof New York Giants Psa 5 Ex1957 Topps #10 Willie Mays New York Giants Hof Psa 6.5 Ex-mt+1950 Negro League Vintage Game Used Baseball Program Scorecard W/ Willie Mays Willie Mays 1997 Sports Illustrated Autograph Mini-cover Fleer Giants Hof1970 Topps #600 Willie Mays Hof San Francisco Giants Psa 8 Nm-mtWillie Mays 2012 Topps Five Star Four-piece Booklet Giants Quad Bat Auto 6/151966 Topps Hank Aaron/ Roberto Clemente/ Willie Mays #215 Baseball Card Psa 8 Nq2003 - 2016 Rc's Hof Auto/patch Lot (30 Cards Total) Mccullers, Correa, Mays, Willie Mays Topps Legends 2003 Baseball Card Signed Auto Autograph Willie Mays 2012 Topps Triple Threads Booklet Giants Game-used Jumbo Bat 1/31969 Topps #190, Willie Mays, Psa 8 Nm-mt, Hall Of Fame (hof)1955 Bowman Willie Mays #184 Psa 5 Low Starting Price Look!2008 Donruss Legends Willie Mays Museum Curator Game Used Relic/auto #d #1/5Willie Mays Signed Autographed Jersey Say Hey Authentic San Francisco Giants!!!Willie Mays Signed Autographed Jersey Say Hey Authentic San Francisco Giants!!1973 Topps Baseball #305 Willie Mays Psa 8 Nm-mt1964 Topps #423 Tops In National League W/ Hank Aaron Willie Mays Hof Psa 8 1954 Bowman Baseball #89 Willie Mays Psa 5 Ex Hof Hc2) Willie Mays Autograph Signed National League Baseball Auto Jsa Loa GiantsWillie Mays Autograph Auto Signed Big Stick Bat Giants Say Hey Authentic 1a1Mickey Mantle (69) And Willie Mays (67) Combo Plus 1962 Managers' Dream1964 Topps San Francisco Giants Team Card Psa 9 Mint Willie Mays-mccovey1963 Post Baseball Near Complete Set 171/206 W/ Sp's Mays-clemente *602511966 Topps #1 Willie Mays Giants Psa 51968 Topps Super Stars Mantle Mays Killebrew #490 Nm-nm+ Sharp Corners1954 Topps #90 Willie Mays Giants Psa 4 *643573Willie Mays 1971 Milk Duds Complete Box Ex/mt+ Bv:$100