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    

Vintage Baseball (103) Card Superstar Lot ... Vg+ ... Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Ott∎ 1954 Red Man Baseball Card Willie Mays #25 **high-end**1952 Topps Willie Mays #261 Psa 3 Vg (pwcc)1953 Topps Baseball Near Complete (180/280) (65%) Set ... Robinson, Paige, MaysVintage Macgregor Willie Mays Personal Model Gc12 Usa Baseball Glove Top Line RhNl Hof Multi Autographed Baseball Willie Mays, Banks, Musial, Spahn, Seaver More1955 Topps Willie Mays #194 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1965 Topps Near Complete Set 579/598 Mantle Mays Banks Perez Morgan Carlton Rc Vintage Baseball (55) Card Superstar Lot ... Gd+ ... Mantle, Mays, Aaron, Maris1966 Topps #1 Willie Mays Psa 8 Nm-mt San Francisco Giants∎ 1954 Topps Baseball Card Willie Mays #90 **near-mint**1954 Topps Willie Mays #90 Psa 7 Nrmt (pwcc)∎ 1956 Topps Baseball Card Willie Mays #130 **awesome**1963 Topps Lot Of 25 #200 Mickey Mantle #300 Willie Mays Quality Cards Ex /nmt1957 Topps Willie Mays #10 Psa 8 Nm-mt (pwcc)1966 Topps Set Palmer Clemente Bvg Mays Robinson Jenkins Banks Ford Kaline Yaz+ Willie Mays Autographed Warren Giles Nl Baseball Mid 1950's Vintage Auto Jsa LoaWillie Mays Autographed Mint Official Major League Baseball "sey Hey Hologram"1956 Topps Mid-grade Complete Set Williams Mantle Koufax Aaron Mays, Psa (pwcc)1955 Bowman Baseball Huge Card Lot - Part Set Mid Grade Vg - Mantle, Berra, MaysMickeymantle And Willie Mays Autograph Signed BaseballLot Of Approximately (185) 1955 Bowman Baseball W/ Mays Berra Aaron Ford Hof +1957 Topps Set Break # 10 Willie Mays Psa 7 Nm G29500Vintage Baseball (33) Card Superstar Lot .. Low Grade .. Mantle, Mays, Clemente1971 Topps Super Near Complete Set Clemente Mays Aaron Gibson Lots Of Stars! Willie Mays San Francisco Giants Vintage Sam 500 Hr Club Gold Bobblehead Rare Sf1959 Topps Mid-grade Complete Set Mantle Mays Maris Aaron Gibson Rc, Psa (pwcc)1960 Topps Complete Set Mantle(sgc 70) Clemente Spahn Mays Aaron Koufax Yaz MoreTopps Hof Star Lot (32) W/ 1961 Yaz + Mays Aaron Ryan +∎ 1954 Bowman Baseball Card Willie Mays #89 **near-mint**2001 Topps Archives Reserve #261 Willie Mays Auto 2015 Topps Career High Cert Auto Yasiel Puig 25 Rbi Los Angeles Dodgers May 20141954 Topps Willie Mays #90 Psa 6 Exmt (pwcc)1958 Topps Set Break # 5 Willie Mays Psa 7 Nm G295121953 Topps Willie Mays Short Print #244 Psa 3(mk) Vg (pwcc)1958 Topps Set Break #486 Willie Mays As Psa 7 Nm G295261952 Bowman Mid-grd Complete Set Musial Spahn Mantle Mays Berra Fox, Psa (pwcc)1959 Topps X-mas Rack Pack W/ Willie Mays & Richie Ashburn Hit Kings #317 (pwcc)1956 Topps Willie Mays #130 Baseball Card Psa Grade 4.5 Vg-ex Cond "amazing"1957 Topps Mid-grade Complete Set Koufax Mays Mantle Berra Clemente, Sgc (pwcc)1959 Topps Partail Set 515/572 Ex Mantle Mays Gibson Rc Clemente Aaron Banks 1954 Bowman Willie Mays #89 Sgc 7/84 Nrmt (pwcc)Willie Mays Signed Baseball Auto W/ Say Hey Hologram San Francisco Giants Hof∎ 1952 Berk Ross Baseball Card Willie Mays **near-mint**Vintage Huge Lot 225 Cards- Maris-mays-aaron-ruth-banks-wynn-auto's-1950 & Up-Willie Mays Signed 34" Adirondack Bat Auto W/ Say Hey Hologram Sf Giants HofWillie Mays Giants Signed Authentic Baseball 8x10 The Catch Photo "say Hey" Holo1947-66 Exhibits Willie Mays Batting Sgc 5/60 Ex (pwcc)1955 Topps Willie Mays #194 Psa 7 Nrmt (pwcc)1952 Bowman #218 Willie Mays New York Giants Hof Psa 2 GoodLot (105) 1964 Topps 5 Hi Kaline Maris Mays Conigliaro Larussa Rc's1955 Bowman Baseball Near Complete (207/320) (65%) Set ... Mays, Aaron, Banks∎ 1957 Topps Baseball Card Willie Mays #10 **superb**1952 Bowman Baseball Willie Mays #218 Original Vintage1955 Topps #194: Willie Mays - New York Giants - Graded Ex 5 By Psa1953 Topps Willie Mays Short Print #244 Psa 3(mk) Vg (pwcc)1964 Topps Giants #51 Willie Mays Psa 8 Nm-mt San Francisco Giants1973 Topps #305 Willie Mays Psa 8 Nm/mint500 Home Run Club Auto. Official Mlb Baseball 10 Signatures Aaron, Mays Etc.1968 Topps Game Complete Set 1-33 Roberto Clemente Mickey Mantle Rose Mays++