Say Hey! Willie Mays turns 87 today: 5 fun facts

Credit: Win McNamee

Credit: Win McNamee

Willie Mays turned 87 on Sunday, and for a generation of baseball fans he will forever be “The Say Hey Kid.” When Mays retired after the 1973 season, his 660 home runs put him third on the all-time career list behind Babe Ruth and Hank Aaron.

Author James S. Hirsch wrote in 2010 that Mays “not only played the game as well as anyone who’s ever taken the field but he also played it the right way.”

Videos of Mays’ defensive gem in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series -- dubbed simply as “The Catch” -- shows Mays with his back to the plate, flagging down Vic Wertz’s smash to the deepest part of center field at the Polo Grounds.

With two runners on base, it prevented the Cleveland Indians from breaking a 2-2 tie, and the New York Giants would win in extra innings en route to a four-game sweep. Was it his greatest catch? “I don’t compare them,” Mays told reporters. “I catch ‘em.”

“My definition of Willie Mays walking into a room is the chandeliers shaking,” Leo Durocher wrote in his 1975 autobiography, “Nice Guys Finish Last.” “And what made him more appealing was that he didn’t know it.”

So, on Willie’s birthday, here are some appealing facts:

Loving August: In 1965, en route to a 52-homer season, Mays set a National League record for August by hitting 17 homers in one month. The record has since been tied by Sammy Sosa, who connected 17 times in August 2001.

All-Star tradition: Mays has played in a record-tying 24 All-Star Games, sharing the mark with Stan Musial and Hank Aaron.

Big awards: Mays won the National League's Most Valuable Player Award in 1954 and 1965. His biggest honor, however, might be the Presidential Medal of Freedom he received from President Barack Obama in November 2015.

TV star: Mays was a big star whenever he appeared on "The Game of the Week" baseball telecasts, but he also appeared in some situation comedies during the 1960s. In 1964 he appeared in two episodes of "The Donna Reed Show" on ABC, and two years later he appeared in an episode of "Bewitched." He played himself in both shows.

He was chided a bit by Redd Foxx in the 1970s sitcom, “Sanford and Son”:

Not unanimous: Mays was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979, his first year of eligibility. No one has been a unanimous selection for enshrinement in Cooperstown, but Mays received 409 votes out of 432 ballots cast. New York Daily News columnist Dick Young, bashing the 23 voters who kept Mays off the ballot, wrote, "If Jesus Christ were to show up with his old baseball glove, some guys wouldn't vote for him. He dropped the cross three times, didn't he?"