Photo: New York World-Telegram and the Sun staff photographer, William C. Greene, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 


Baseball lost an icon in Willie Mays, who died on Tuesday at age 93. Mays, referred to by many as the sport’s all-time best player, left an impact that is easy to measure and hard to match. The term 5-tool player basically exists because of him. He could hit, hit for power, run, field, and throw, all at the highest level.

Think about it.

You wouldn’t reach Mays’ career totals if your career began with 16 straight seasons of 40  homers or 200 hits, 19 seasons of 100 RBI, or 20 seasons of 150 games played.

The MLB outfield leader in putouts last season was Brenton Doyle with 373. Doyle could match that total for 18 straight seasons and still catch fewer balls in the outfield than Mays did.

Mays’ 156.2 career WAR (the Baseball-Reference version), is greater than that of Mike Trout and Mookie Betts combined (they’re at 154.9).

Mays had epic seasons at different stages of his career. At age 23 and 24, he hit 41 and 51 home runs, respectively. At age 33 and 34, he hit 47 and 52 home runs. Mays won 2 MVP awards. Had modern advanced metrics existed when Mays played, he would have almost certainly won more. He finished 1st or 2nd in the NL in WAR 11 times. He made the All-Star team in each of his last 20 MLB seasons.

Beyond the numbers, Mays was a presence wherever he was. He made an impact on baseball fans from coast to coast. As a young player in the early stages of his career, he was known for playing stickball with neighborhood kids in the streets of New York City. As an elder statesman, he’d hang out in the Giants’ clubhouse to talk to players and coaches. He was revered and that’s not a word used lightly.

We’re sad for Mays’ passing but we celebrate his excellence and the standard he set by which others can be measured. Rest in peace, Willie.

If you would like to read about the defensive excellence of Willie Mays, check out this article, which Mark wrote for The Society for American Baseball Research.