It had been a whirlwind for Willie Mays as the calendar pushed toward Memorial Day, 1951. His young baseball career had gotten off to a great start in the minor leagues and on May 23, he was at a movie theater when an on-screen message summoned him to call his hotel: The New York Giants were looking for him.
A day later, the kid from Alabama was in the big leagues and would soon be posing for photographers anxious to grab an image of the youngster who’d been tearing it up at Minneapolis. The RMY Auctions Photo of the Day dates to that rookie season. The 5 ¾” x 8 ¼” image is one of only a small number of original examples still in existence. It’s the same one used on Mays’ 1952 Berk Ross baseball card.
The photo is one of several hundred in RMY’s first auction of 2017, which runs through Saturday.
Mays looks a little nervous in the photo and his big league career got off to a rough start. After hitting .477 in 35 games with the Millers, Mays went 0-for-12 with the Giants, finally breaking the skid with a homer off Warren Spahn of the Boston Braves, a future Hall of Famer. “I’ll never forgive myself,” Spahn joked much later in life. “We might have gotten rid of Willie forever if I’d only struck him out.”
Mays would go on to win the 1951 National League Rookie of the Year Award. His play, especially his defense, would help the Giants reach the famous playoff with the Dodgers. In fact, he was on deck when Bobby Thomson belted the pennant-inning homer.
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