COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – The “Say Hey Kid” just couldn’t stop smiling on Induction Day 1979.
William Howard Mays Jr., the longtime outfielder for the Giants and Mets, was welcomed into Cooperstown by what sportswriter and J.G. Taylor Spink award winner Ritter Collett described as “…groups of bleacher-type fans from both the San Francisco and New York areas.”
And indeed, fans of the “kid” came all the way from the Bay Area of California – a few of them holding up a sign that read “We came from San Mateo, Calif., to say we love Willie.”
Mays was inducted on his first appearance on the Baseball Writers' Association of America ballot 31 years ago this week, becoming just the ninth player after the inaugural Class of 1936 to be elected to the Hall of Fame in his first attempt. Mays joined Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Sandy Koufax, Warren Spahn, Mickey Mantle and Ernie Banks in that exclusive club.
The other two inductees in 1979, Warren Giles, the former National League president, and Hack Wilson, the owner of four home run titles and the single season record for RBIs with 191, were both deceased, leaving Mays with the Cooperstown stage all to himself.
From greeting fans and signing autographs, to waving to the crowd, to tearing up with joy, it was a signature “Say Hey” day in Cooperstown.
Several Hall of Fame legends like Satchel Paige, Musial and Feller – along with Mays’ former manager Leo Durocher – attended the ceremony, paying tribute to the man who won 12 Gold Glove Awards and was selected to 24 All-Star games.
“They invented the All-Star game for Willie Mays,” said Ted Williams, the Hall of Fame Red Sox slugger and outfielder.
Perhaps Mays’ most impressive feat, though, was joining the 3,000 hit/500 home run club in 1970 – one of only four players to do so.
Mays, who traveled from New York to San Francisco with the Giants after the 1957 season and then back to New York to be a Met in 1972, saluted the fans that came from near and far to make his induction special.
“I love baseball. It’s a great game,” Mays said. “Now I know the 22 years I played weren’t in vain. You gave me those years back.”
Thomas Lawrence was the 2009 publications intern in the Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum