Willie Mays homered in Atlanta as part of ‘greatest team ever assembled’

The Ponce de Leon ballpark once hosted the Negro League All-Star barnstorming team.

The “greatest team ever assembled” made its way to Atlanta in 1955.

Willie Mays played center field. Hank Aaron played right field. Larry Doby in left. Don Newcombe was a pitcher. Roy Campanella was the catcher. Ernie Banks was the shortstop. That was just part of the lineup that made up the Mays-Newcombe barnstorming team that toured the South that year. The All-Stars went 28-0 that winter, facing Negro League teams in a 25-city tour, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In Atlanta, Mays hit one of the longest homers in the history of Ponce de Leon Park – 460 feet over the center field wall.

Ponce de Leon Park sat across the street from the building that is today's Ponce City Market. The ballpark was built in 1907 and demolished in 1966. Today it's a shopping center with a Whole Foods and a TJ Maxx. (GSU Special Collections Department)


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Mays died Tuesday at the age of 93.

“I don’t think it would have mattered who we played. That might have been the best team ever assembled,” Mays is reported to have said on the 1955 Mays-Newcombe All-Stars.

The tour followed a season in which Mays led the National League with 51 homers playing for the Giants. Newcombe went 20-5 with the Dodgers. Banks had hit five grand slams (an MLB record) with the Cubs, and his teammate Sam Jones had tossed a no-hitter.

And a 21-year-old Aaron hit 37 doubles while hitting .314 with a .906 OPS in his second full season with the Braves. Aaron died in 2021 at the age of 86.

Over 23 major league seasons, virtually all with the New York/San Francisco Giants but also including one in the Negro Leagues, Mays batted .301, hit 660 home runs, totaled 3,293 hits, scored more than 2,000 runs and won 12 Gold Glove. He was Rookie of the Year in 1951, twice was named the MVP and finished in the top 10 for the MVP 10 other times. His lightning sprint and over-the-shoulder grab of an apparent extra base hit in the 1954 World Series remains the most celebrated defensive play in baseball history.

“Barnstorming was when you put together a team after the season and went around the country playing wherever you could get paid,” Mays once told the New York Times. “Jackie Robinson had a team with Larry Doby and Pee Wee Reese and Gil Hodges that we played in Birmingham back when I was 15 years old. I made $500 a month playing in the Black leagues before the Giants signed me. I had to take a cut when I went to play (Class) B ball in the minors. My first few years, I made more money barnstorming than I did with the Giants.”

A magnolia tree behind the Midtown Place shopping center on Ponce de Leon Avenue is a living remnant of Ponce de Leon Park. The tree stood in center field and unique rules allowed for it to "catch" fly balls. (Pete Corson/AJC 2016 photo)

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