I am pleased to see that Quin Hillyer has chosen to honor Willie Mays on the occasion of his 80th birthday.
My Dad grew up in the Bronx rooting for the New York Giants and is a Mays fan to this very day. In fact, when Dad turned 70 last month my gift to him was a copy of James S. Hirsch’s biography, Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend (which Quin mentions in his article.)
Quin makes a interesting case that Mays was the best to have ever played the game. He is not the first to make such an argument on behalf of the Say Hey Kid. The late Maury Allen, the sportswriter who spent much of his career at The New York Post, wrote a book in 1981 titled Baseball’s 100: A Personal Ranking of The Best Players in Baseball History. In Baseball’s 100, Allen ranked Mays at number one with Hank Aaron at number two followed by Babe Ruth at number three.
Let’s just say Allen was not well received for those rankings. Tim Horgan of The Boston Herald wrote that Allen was “full of kumquats.” Horgan went on to state that Allen “should realize that Babe Ruth was the greatest player in baseball history. This is not even open to interpretation.”
I disagree. It is certainly open to interpretation. Indeed, when the baseball writers voted for the inaugural class of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1936, Ty Cobb received more votes than Ruth. Not only that but Ruth received the same number of votes as Honus Wagner. So as time goes on it is not inconceivable that baseball afficionados will deem Mays the greatest to have ever worn a big league uniform.
That said, I would still put the Bambino at number one. But then again, the Babe could never have made this catch. Happy Birthday Willie.