The consensus is widely held that Willie Mays is the greatest living baseball player. Active between 1951 and 1973, Mays (turning 92 today) hit 660 home runs for the New York/San Francisco Giants and the New York Mets.
He won the 1954 batting title (.354), won three home run titles and four stolen base titles, and was a two-time National League Most Valuable Player. He was on every All-Star team between 1954 and 1972.
To celebrate Willie Mays, on his birthday and every day, this is a look at the 10 most impactful performances of his remarkable MLB career
Our standard of measurement is Win Probability Added, a stat that calculates the individual’s role in influencing the game’s outcome. For that reason, it emphasizes late-inning, game-turning accomplishments. It judges the player’s contribution within the broader context of winning the game.
A note: One Mays game not included on this list is his famous four-homer game against the Milwaukee Braves on April 30, 1961. Mays drove in eight runs that day. However, because the Giants won so easily (the final score was 14-4), Mays’ contribution to victory as measured by WPA only added up to 0.367, not enough to break into his personal top 10.
Here are the 10 most impactful games of baseball’s greatest living legend.
10. May 24, 1962, Giants 7, Phillies 4. The Giants were battling the rival Dodgers for National League leadership in a race that would ultimately be decided in a playoff. At Candlestick Park, Mays’ first-inning double set up the Giants’ first run, and when he led off the sixth with a home run off Cal McLish it gave San Francisco a 2-1 lead.
But the Phillies scored three times in the top of the seventh, holding a 4-3 lead when Mays came up again, this time with Tom Haller on base. Again he touched McLish for a home run, this one sailing deep into the seats beyond the left field fence. That homer gave the Giants a lead they would not relinquish. Win Probability Added: 0.642.
9. Sept. 24, 1968, Giants 5, Astros 4. The Giants opened a three-game mid-week series at the Astrodome with a first inning Mays home run. But they trailed 4-3 when he came up again in the eighth, this time with two out and runners at second and third.
As feared a slugger at Mays was, the last thing the Astros probably expected was a bunt. But that’s what Mays delivered. It caught Astros third baseman Doug Rader so flat-footed that not only did Mays reach and Jim Davenport score from third, but Dave Marshall came all the way around from second to score the go-ahead run. Win Probability Added: 0.654
8. July 17, 1973, Mets 8, Braves 7. Mays was 42 years old and a part-timer in his final season when the Mets visited Fulton County Stadium. New York entered the game 12 games under .500 and in last place, but this game would launch a stretch run that would carry the Mets to a surprising division title and a World Series berth.
Through eight innings, Atlanta led 7-1 when the Mets launched one of the season’s biggest comebacks. Two home runs netted four runs, and New York trailed only 7-6 when Mets manager Yogi Berra called on Mays to pinch hit for Wayne Garrett with two out and runners at second and third. His home run days were largely behind him, but Mays could still produce a pivotal single, which he did, scoring Jim Beauchamp and Ted Martinez with the tying and go-ahead runs. Win Probability Added: 0.656.