Trade to Mets brings Mays back to New York

Part of the INSIDE PITCH series
Written by: Janey Murray

It was only fitting that Willie Mays’ career would end in the city where it all began.

On May 11, 1972, the all-time great center fielder was traded to the Mets, following more than two decades in the Giants organization.

After he signed with the Giants in 1950, Mays spent six seasons in New York with the club, playing stickball in the streets of Manhattan with the neighborhood kids and making the Polo Grounds his home. But when the team moved to San Francisco in 1958, it was off to the West Coast for Mays as well.

“It’s a wonderful feeling to be coming back here,” Mays told the Daily News. “I’ve always loved San Francisco, but this is like coming back to Paradise.”

Mays had previously played with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League before making the jump to the National League. He debuted with the Giants in 1951 and quickly established himself as a star, capturing the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 1951, the NL MVP Award in 1954 and making the All-Star Game every year from 1954-72.

At the time of the trade, Mays was 41 years old, and it was clear that his legendary career was nearing its end. Wanting to ensure him of his baseball future, the Giants made the move, parting ways with their franchise icon in exchange for minor league pitcher Charlie Williams and $50,000.

“Willie’s security was our main concern,” Giants owner Horace Stoneham told the Daily News. “The basis behind all this was his future. Now that the Mets have taken care of Willie, I’m happy.”

The Giants had initially insisted that an infielder be included in the return, but when the Mets offered to throw in cash instead, the deal was completed.

Ever since the 1951 season, Mays had sported his famous No. 24. In New York, that number was already occupied by Mets first baseman Jim Beauchamp.

But it didn’t take much convincing for Beauchamp to surrender the number for the sake of the Say Hey Kid.

“I think he earned it,” Beauchamp told Newsday.

In New York, Mays would team up with Mets skipper Yogi Berra. While there was some initial speculation that the Mets might be lining Mays up to eventually take over as manager, he shut that possibility down quickly.

“That’s Yogi’s department, man,” Mays said. “I’m here as a player now and ready to go to work anyway Yogi wants to use me.”

And in what way would that be? Mays wasn’t sure yet.

“Yogi and I can get together and I know I can help this club,” Mays said. “You know the Mets are a very good ball club and they’re not going to have me playing just because I’m Willie Mays.”

As fate would have it, Mays’ first game in a Mets uniform came against his former club – and Mays looked every bit the star player he’d been for the last two decades, delivering a game-winning homer to push New York past the Giants at Shea Stadium on May 14.

Mays would remain with the club for the next two seasons, batting .238, before retiring at the end of the 1973 campaign.

He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1979.


Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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Part of the INSIDE PITCH series