Any debate about the greatest baseball players of all time will eventually lead to a kid who grew up in the segregated south, dreaming of a big league career but knowing as a youngster it might never happen.
Eventually he got his chance. Willie Mays could do it all and look great doing it. He played in three decades, was an All Star 20 times, Gold Glove winner 12 times and named Most Valuable Player twice. So which are the best Willie Mays cards to own and what makes a Mays card great?
His name belongs right along Cobb, Ruth, DiMaggio, Mantle or any other all-time great you can name. But unlike his fellow legends, there are LOTS of his baseball cards from which to
1951 Bowman No. 305: Willie’s rookie is a beautiful card from a beautiful set, but it’s one of those cards only available to collectors with fairly deep pockets. Among post war cards, Mays’ ’51 Bowman is second in price only to Mickey Mantle’s first Topps and Bowman issues – albeit a distant second. There’s really no limit to what you might pay in order to acquire a really nice example. There has yet to be a PSA 10 example of the card and there are just nine 9s out there – one of which fetched a whopping $73,000 in a 2008 Memory Lane auction. If you want one, and aren’t too particular about condition, you can find an OK one for a little under $1,000.
1952 Topps No. 261: The cardboard parallels of Mays and Mantle are striking. Both appear as rookies in the 1951 Bowman set and again in the scarce series of 1952. Willie’s ’52 Topps card makes him look a little angry but it’s among the keys to the most important Topps set of all-time and honestly, it’s probably undervalued. There are only about 200 more 1952 Topps Mays on PSA’s Population Report than Mantle but the price for a lower-end, graded
1953 Topps No. 244: This artwork of Mays shows him in a fielding position which makes it unique. His second Topps card is far more affordable than his first. Although prices have been steadily climbing, you can still own a ‘5’ (EX) example for a little under $1,000 if you shop around.
For aesthetic quality, this is definitely one of the best Willie Mays cards to own. An eye-catching yellow background picturing a young, smiling fly-catcher about to win his first MVP award makes the 1954 Topps Mays one of the nicest cards in a gorgeous set. They’re not cheap, but there are a lot of them out there and you can find a respectable one in the $125-$200 range.
1971 Topps No. 600: The 1971 Topps baseball set looks like no other Topps issue before or since. Those midnight black borders make the set a complicated one to put together in superior shape. Scarce mid- and high-number cards add to the degree of difficulty which is why Mays – who is in the sets’ fifth series – is a bit of a challenge especially in great shape. No PSA 10s have been encapsulated, but 12 9s have been and they carry a SMR price of $3,200. Those gems are mostly in private collections but a PSA 8 recently fetched over $1,100. Cards that aren’t in elite condition run the gamut and can be had literally anywhere from $20-$60.
Want to find out which Mays cards might be underrated? Click here.