Happy birthday, Willie Mays! The best all-around player in baseball history is 84, which means it's time to reminisce and appreciate is brilliance. It also means it's time for anyone under the age of 50 to complain about not getting to watch him.
Mays is the ultimate time-machine player, and I don't think that's especially controversial. Forget Babe Ruth. Forget Walter Johnson. Forget Ty Cobb. I would use my time machine to watch Willie Mays play baseball, and I wouldn't need a moment to think about it. Okay, maybe I'd take a moment to think about if I would use the time machine to see Otis Redding instead. But I would eventually settle on Mays.
The question now, then, is which game would you take the time machine to see? You get only one.
Well, hurp. Of course this one is in the running. The existence of The Catch almost negates this entire hypothetical exercise. You get to go to the Polo Grounds. You get to watch a 23-year-old Mays turn around and sprint after a baseball in one of the deepest center fields in MLB history. You get to watch the Giants win on a pinch-hit, walk-off homer.
However, Mays was 0-for-3 in Game 1 of the 1954 World Series. He took a walk and stole a base in the 10th, but this wasn't the quintessential Mays performance at the plate.
Still, that catch. You would get to watch one of the most famous plays in sports history and one of the more exciting World Series games ever. Hard to vote against that.
Four homers, one game
Until you remember this one. On April 30, 1961, Willie Mays hit four home runs. One of them was reportedly hit 450 feet and left the stadium entirely.
An underrated benefit of choosing this game: Orlando Cepeda and Felipe Alou both hit homers. Hank Aaron hit two. Eddie Mathews and Willie McCovey played. This would have been one of the best collections of stars possible in the '60s, and Mays absolutely went bonkers.
Check out how exciting the AP made it seem!
Any game of your choosing
Or maybe you want to see Mays vs. one of the best pitchers of all time. You get to pitch which one. Whoever tickles your historical fancy. You could see Mays hit a walk-off homer against Warren Spahn and get to see the legendary duel between Spahn and Marichal. That's a strong, strong contender. But maybe you would just want to see Mays thoroughly dominate a great pitcher. You would have options. Here's what Mays hit in his career against some Hall of Famers.
.305/.368/.587 vs. Warren Spahn
.330/.374/.604 vs. Don Drysdale
.312/.364/.476 vs. Robin Roberts
.278/.426/.536 vs. Sandy Koufax
.300/.394/.550 vs. Fergie Jenkins
.373/.484/.627 vs. Don Sutton
Bob Gibson ate him up, sure, but going to a nice, quiet game where Mays ruins a Koufax performance might be nice. It would be like Buster Posey taking Clayton Kershaw deep.
Yeah, that. Only more so. This option allows you to pick any Mays game from the field. Here's one where he hit two triples, two home runs, and stole a base. Here's one with four steals and a triple from 1957, and you get to watch a young Frank Robinson, too. You can spend hours researching which game was the Maysiest, getting a dinger, stolen base, and great catch all at once.
Wait, the Monterey Pop Festival was in Monterey. The Giants played a day game at home that afternoon. Mays went 1-for-2 with two walks, and he faced Steve Carlton. So if I go to that game, I get to see it, and then ... listen, I'll need to bum a ride from one of your parents. You need to get a message to them back through time. It might lead to you never being born, but I need this. Okay, here's what we need to do ...
You can watch The Catch. You can watch four dingers in one game. Or you can pick any of the other games in Mays's career. The only wrong choice, here, is to be a scientist who has spent his or her live making "medicine" or "helpful technology" instead of a time machine. You people can sit in the corner and think about what you've done.
When you're ready to build a time machine and contribute to society, we'll be right here, waiting to watch Willie Mays be the best at everything. Happy birthday, Willie!