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 Hof Rookie Rc #305 Psa 7 Nm **centered**1952 Topps Willie Mays #2 Baseball Card Psa Graded 2 Gd-cond. "great Color"1956 Topps #130 Willie Mays (gray Back) Psa 8 CenteredMickey Mantle Willie Mays Snider Signed Autograph Baseball Auto, Jsa Loa (pwcc)Willie Mays 1951 Bowman Rookie Card Psa 3 (vg)1957 Topps Willie Mays #10 Baseball Card Psa Graded 7 Nm-cond. "shows Like 8"Ken Griffey Jr. Uda Hof Signed Baseball Willie Mays Signed Ball Upper Deck1958 Topps #5 Wilie Mays Psa 8 Centered1953 Topps Setbreak Willie Mays Short Print #244 Psa 6 Exmt (pwcc)Mickey Mantle And Willie Mays Autographed BaseballWillie Mays 1954 Topps #90 - New York Giants - Mint Condition!!!1953 Topps Baseball Card #244 Willie Mays - Psa 5 - ExWillie Mays Signed Autographed Oml Baseball Inscribed "say Hey" Say Hey HoloPsa/dna Authenticated & Graded Willie Mays Signed Baseball Bat1957 Topps Setbreak Willie Mays #10 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)Mickey Mantle Banks Mays Sign Autograph Baseball Sweet Spot Auto, Jsa Loa (pwcc)1956 Topps #130 Willie Mays Hof New York Giants Psa 7 Nm High End Gray Back Willie Mays Signed Autographed Auto Rawlings Pro Ash Bat Say Hey Auth "say Hey"2000 Upper Deck Piece Of History Giants Willie Mays 3000 Hit Club Jersey & Bat1957 Topps #10 Wilie Mays Psa 8 Centered1955 Topps Willie Mays #194 Psa 6 Ex-mt1960 Topps #200 Willie Mays Psa 7 High End Sharp Nm/mt Corners1959 Topps Bb Near Complete Set 561/572 Low-mid Grade W/ Mays, Banks, Aaron1968 Topps Mid-grade Near Complete Set Mays Mantle Clemente Bench Ryan Rc Hof Sp1968 Topps Ba Complete Set Ryan Bench Rc, Mantle, Mays, Clemente No Reserve!Hank Aaron Hof Willie Mays Autograph 1973 Topps Set Signed Card Babe Ruth 732012 Topps Gold Standard Willie Mays "gold Standard" Autograph Card 04/15Willie Mays Autographed Official National League Baseball Jsa CertifiedOriginal 1955 Topps Willie Mays Baseball Card #194 High # Set Break1963 Topps #138 Willie Mays Stan Musual Dual Autograph Psa/dna Authentic Rare Willie Mays Signed Rawlings Baseball Autographed Say Hey Hologram "660hr"1956 Topps #130 Willie Mays ExNoblespirit No Reserve 3958bc 1959 Topps Willie Mays No.50 Ex-mt+ 6.5 PsaSan Francisco Giants Sga Willie Mays "the Catch" Bobblehead W/tkt Stub500 Home Run Club 25x41" Framed 11 Autographs Mays Mantle Aaron Art By Ron LewisMickey Mantle / Willie Mays / Duke Snider Autographed 8x10 Photo.....certified1960 Topps Set Break #200 - Willie Mays Nr-mint T195071965 Topps #250 Willie Mays Bvg Beckett 7.5 (near Mint+) San Francisco Giants1968 Topps Game Complete Set (33) W/ Mantle, Rose, Mays Mostly Nm Condition Willie Mays 1955 Topps #194 - Hi # - New York Giants - Breathtaking!!! Sharp!!!Mickey Mantle Willie Mays Signed Photo 8x10 Autographed Gfa1971 Topps Set Break #600 Willie Mays Nr-mint T205831970 Topps Story Complete Booklet Set 24x Lot Pete Rose Willie Mays Banks Cepeda1952 Bowman #218 Willie Mays Psa 5 Ex 69992b1955 Topps #194 Willie Mays Psa 4.51968 Topps Supper Stars #490 Killebrew Mays Mantle Hof Psa 8 Nm-mtVintage Topps Baseball Card Lot Stan Musial,babe Ruth,hank Aaron,willie Mays1958 Topps All Star #486 Willie Mays San Francisco Giants Hof Psa 8 Nm-mt∎ 1955 Topps Baseball Card Willie Mays #194 **nice Card**2016 Topps Series 2,berger's Best 65 Card Sub Set,cal Ripken Jr.,willie Mays 2015 Topps Baseball Royalty Bat Relic Willie Mays #d /25! Giants!1997 Topps Reprint Auto Autograph # 18 Willie Mays Hof1959 Topps Willie Mays #50 Psa 6Willie Mays Mickey Mantle Signed Photo New York Yankees Baseball Authentic Auto1964 Topps #150 Willie Mays San Francisco Giants Hof Psa 7.5 Nm+Willie Mays Plaque And Signed Ball, "the Catch"Willie Mays Signed Rawlings Baseball Autographed Say Hey Hologram Sf Giants Hof3Willie Mays Signed Baseball Auto Autograph Jsa Loa San Francisco Giants HofSan Francisco Giants Willie Mays Signed Gray Jersey With Mays Say Hey HologramTopps Lot 1959 60 62 60's 70's Baseball Collection Willie Mays Clemente Ryan