Baseball fans are pretty busy. If we're not glued to the games, our time is probably spent bragging about how good our teams are (see the Fiery Five) complaining about how awful they are (see the Stinky Five) or trying to figure out what they will be like in the future.
But being a real baseball fan is also about knowing the history of the sport, and honoring those players who made the game what it is today. One of those guys is Willie Mays, and today he turns 78.
Mays, nicknamed "The Say Hey Kid," might just have been baseball's first legitimate five-tool player. His career totals are just ridiculous: 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, 338 stolen bases, a lifetime batting average of .302, and 7,095 career putouts as an outfielder. He was the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year, a two-time MVP, won 12 Gold Gloves, and was a 24-time All-Star. That's enough to get inducted into the Hall of Fame twice.
Besides being incredibly talented, Mays was also known for being one of the liveliest and most exciting players to play the game. If you watch videos of him at the plate, you will be amazed at the terrible pitches he could turn into hits. He was always losing his cap (which he wore a size too small) as he rounded the bases. And, of course, no one will ever forget "The Catch," his amazing over-the-shoulder basket catch during the 1954 World Series.
Though we’re not lucky enough to have seen Mays in action, there is no doubt he is still a part of the game. Anytime you see an outfielder lay out for a sinking liner, anytime you see a speedster annoy a pitcher by dancing off first base, and any time you see a slugger smile with glee after a game-winning home run, you can probably thank Willie Mays for the inspiration.
But instead of thanking him, today you can just say Happy Birthday!