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    

1962 Willie Mays Sf Giants Baseball Bobble Head Nodder (dark Skin Version) Nice!1964 Topps Baseball Complete (587) Card Set (psa) ... Mantle, Rose, Aaron, Mays1963 Topps Baseball Complete (576) Card Set (psa) ... Rose Rc, Mantle, MaysHank Aaron Babe Ruth Willie Mays 1999 Ud A Piece Of History 500 Club Triple BatVintage Baseball (64) Card Superstar Lot ... Mantle, Mays, Clemente & Maris Rc1972 Topps Complete Set Ryan Mays Rose Clemente Vintage 1969 Topps Baseball 2nd Series Unopened 5c Wax Pack Rose Yaz Mays Gibson2003 Bowman Chrome Willie Mays On Card Auto Only 150 Produced...rare2001 Donruss Signature Series Team Trademark Willie Mays Auto Say Hey 002/1971955 Topps # 194 Willie Mays New York Giants Psa 8Vintage Baseball (24) Card Superstar Lot ... Vg-ex+ ... Mantle, Mays, Kaline RcMickey Mantle Willie Mays Duke Snider Signed Autographed Baseball Psa/dna Loa1962 Topps Baseball Complete (598) Card Set (psa) ... Mantle, Maris, Mays, AaronVintage Baseball (66) Card Superstar Lot ... Gd+ ... Aaron Rc, Mays, Clemente1951 Bowman #305 Willie Mays Rookie Hof Giants Psa 21973 Topps Baseball Complete Set Schmidt Ryan Mays RoseMickey Mantle Willie Mays Duke Snider Signed Autographed Baseball Jsa LoaHuge Mlb Vintage Auto Rc Lot Mickey Mantle Hank Aaron Ted Williams Willie Mays1966 Topps Baseball Complete (-5) Card Set (psa) ... Mantle, Mays, Aaron, KoufaxHuge Baseball Card Gu Jersey Auto Autograph Memorabilia Relic Lot Jeter, Mays...1961 Topps Baseball Complete (587) Card Set (psa) ... Mantle, Maris, Mays, AaronVintage 1976 "500 Home Run Club" Signed Ball (10) Mantle Williams Mays Aaron Jsa1953 Topps Baseball Willie Mays #244 Psa 4 Giants Hof High Number2004 Finest Willie Mays Autograph Bgs 9.5 W/10 Auto2001 Topps Archives Reserve Willie Mays Autograph Auto Psa 8 Card#ara1San Francisco Giants Willie Mays Throwback Jersey Sz 2xl 54 XxlWillie Mays Autographed Plaque Postcard Psa-dna No Reserve1952 Topps Willie Mays #261 Rookie-original1952 Bowman # 218 Willie Mays New York Giants Psa 8 Oc1955 Red Man Tobacco #nl7 Willie Mays Bvg 8 - New York GiantsSan Francisco Giants Willie Mays Signed Gray Jersey W/ Mays Say Hey HoloVintage Mickey Mantle (3) Willie Mays (2) Roberto Clemente, Hank Aaron Lot.2015 Topps Heritage Quad Relic Card Mays, Aaron,trout,harper Maht 8 /10Willie Mays 1963 Topps #300 - San Francisco Giants - Nrmint+ Breathtaking!!!Mickey Mantle/willie Mays Autographed 8x10 Photo.....certified...Org May 25 1965 Muhammad Ali / Clay Vs Liston Full On Site Boxing Ticket Nrmt+1952 Bowman #218 Willie Mays New York Giants Hof Psa 6 (mk) Ex-mt1952 Bowman #218 Willie Mays 2nd Year Giants Psa 4Willie Mays Signed White Inscribed "hof 79" Mlb Baseball. Mays Say Hey Willie Mays "the Catch" Hall Of Fame Sf Giants Bobble Bobblehead Sga From 2011Willie Mays The Catch Authentic Framed 16x20 Photo Autographed Giants (mays Coa)Topps Baseball Willie Mays Lot, 1973 And 2012 Autograph1954 Topps Archives Gold Complete Baseball Set (256) Nm/mt ^ Kaline Mays Spahn1963 Topps #300 Willie Mays Psa 6 Vintage Topps Mlb Cards 1961 W Mays 1975 P Rose 1976 D Eckersley Rc Lot Of 32013 Museum Collection Quad Jersey Cain/lincecum/willie Mays/posey 24/99 GiantsWillie Mays Ny Giants #305 Bowman 1951 Rookie Original Bvg 4 Vgex1968 Topps #490 Super Stars (mantle, Mays, Killebrew) (high Number) Psa 8 Willie Mays Signed Stat Ball Beautiful Ss Signature 15 Inscriptions∎ 1968 Topps Baseball Card Super Stars Mickey Mantle/mays/kille #490 **superb**New York Giants Willie Mays Signed Autograph Onl Baseball Free Shipping!!1957 Topps #10 Willie Mays Giants Psa 6 *519646Autographed Mickey Mantle Willie Mays Duke Snider Custom Framed Showcase $2,3981971 Topps Greatest Moments #41 Willie Mays Psa 7 - San Francisco Giants1963 Topps #300 Willie Mays Psa Psa 7 Set Break2015 Topps Heritage Mike Trout / Willie Mays Punchboard Box Topper Card #66p-91961 Topps Willie Mays #150 Psa Graded 4 Vg/ex1973 Topps Baseball Card #1 Home Run Leaders (ruth/aaron/mays) Psa 7 Nm1965 Topps Willie Mays #250 Psa 8 Giants Hof Old Grade2014 Leaf Executive Collection Ken Griffey Jr Willie Mays Dual Autograph 1/1!!!