When I was a kid, there was a raging debate among baseball fans.
Who would be the first to surpass Babe Ruth on the all–time home run list, Hank Aaron or Willie Mays?
My money was always on Willie, and he got a considerable jump on the somewhat plodding but steady Aaron early in their careers.
I always felt Mays was more charismatic, and I guess I gravitated to him because of that in those days ... but Aaron caught up with him and passed him on the home run list. I don't remember which one made it to 600 homers first, but Aaron went on to exceed Ruth's career total (which Mays never did) and become the all–time home run champion for the next three decades.
Even so, Mays left his mark — many of them — on major league baseball:
- Nearly four decades after he retired, only three men have hit more home runs in their careers than Mays — and only one played his entire career after Mays left the scene.
- And none of those guys ever hit four home runs in a game — which Mays did 50 years ago last weekend in a game against Aaron's Milwaukee Braves.
- Only half a dozen players have scored more runs than Mays. His closest competition among active players is Alex Rodriguez, who needs to score more than 250 times to equal Mays.
- Rodriguez may well outscore Mays before his career is over. If he does, it seems to be a cinch that he will pass Mays on the all–time RBI list. He trails Mays by fewer than 50 in that category — and, if he does pass him, he will be in the all–time Top 10.
- Mays led the National League in batting average once and finished as the runnerup three times.
- Only 10 players have more career base hits than Mays — and his most serious competition among active players, Derek Jeter, needs more than 300 hits to pass him.
- He was the first major league baseball player to hit 30 home runs before the All–Star break — an achievement that became much more commonplace during the steroids era.
I guess it shouldn't be so hard to believe. And it isn't, really. I mean, I know when he retired, and I know when he was born.
It's just hard to accept that so much time has gone by since he graced the baseball fields of America.