Willie Mays finished his career with 660 homers, 3,283 hits and a .302 average.
Say happy birthday

Willie Mays, the Say Hey Kid, turns 70

By Chris Shuttlesworth

On May 6, the greatest player ever to wear a Giants uniform -- and perhaps the greatest all-around player ever to play in the Major Leagues -- turns 70. But to countless fans of the orange and black, Willie Mays will always be a 20-year-old rookie recording his first career hit with a monstrous homer off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn; the flashy youngster that won the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year Award.

To others, he's 23, returning from nearly two full seasons spent in the Army to win the 1954 MVP Award with a .345 average and 41 homers. He's forever running back to the deepest part of the Polo Grounds in the 1954 World Series, making one of the most famous catches in history, and then whirling around to throw the ball back to the infield, freezing the amazed base runners.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays celebrates his 41st birthday at Veterans Stadium, May 6, 1972.
Some fans see him as perpetually 25 years old, leading the league with 40 stolen bases. As he scampers around the base paths, his head is tipped back just enough to cause his cap to fly off. Or he's 27, hitting a career-best .347 to fall just three points shy of leading the league once again.

Willie Mays is forever 29, clubbing four home runs in a single game at Milwaukee's County Stadium. He's 31, leading the league with 49 homers and driving in a personal-best 141 runs.

It's easy to picture the Say Hey Kid as a 32-year-old, being named to one of his 20 All-Star Games and earning the MVP Award of the Midsummer Classic. He's 34, robbing the great Ted Williams of an All-Star Game homer.

Fans can envision the 35-year-old Mays capturing his second NL MVP honor with an amazing 52 homers. Here's the 37-year-old winning his 12th straight Gold Glove and another All-Star MVP nod.

Mays isn't 70, he's 39 and cracking his 3,000th career hit in front of the Candlestick Park crowd. The hearts of those same fans break as they see the 41-year-old being traded to the Mets or the 42-year-old hanging up his spikes for good.

Willie Mays
Willie Mays greets his godson, Barry Bonds, after Bonds hit his 500th home run, April 18, 2001.
We know time has passed. We've watched Mays enter the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility at the age of 48. That was a 55-year-old Mays rejoining the Giants as a special assistant to the president, and he was 61 when he signed a lifetime contract with San Francisco.

Mays was standing on a stage with a look of amazement belying his 66 years when President and Managing General Partner Peter Magowan announced in 1997 that the address of Pacific Bell Park would be Willie Mays Plaza. And just short of his 69th birthday, he was "scared" by the lifelike detail of the statue erected in his honor in the plaza named for him, with his No. 24 looking down from the clock tower above Willie Mays Gate.

One only has to look at that statue to realize that Willie Mays might be 70, but that he is also sealed in our minds at whatever age, and with whatever moment we admire the most from the life of this extraordinary and supremely special ballplayer.

Even those who weren't fortunate enough to witness his feats in person have seen and heard enough about his exploits to understand that Mays is an unforgettable fixture in baseball history.

And for those who witnessed first-hand the exhilarating play of Willie Mays, he will always be frozen in time, forever young and always a superstar. Happy birthday, Willie.

Chris Shuttlesworth is the site editor of and can be reached at