Willie Mays is arguably the greatest baseball player of all time. Rookie of the Year in 1951, a 24-time All-Star, two-time MVP, 12-time Gold Glove winner and 1954 World Series champion, Mays became must-see talent whenever the Giants came to town. His 660 career home runs are the fifth-most in MLB history, trailing only Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth and Alex Rodriguez.
Writer Bob Stevens chronicled the day Mays hit his 500th home run in the Sept. 25, 1965, edition of The Sporting News. Mays went on to win the NL MVP award after that season, batting .317 with 52 homers and 112 RBIs. Stevens’ story appeared along the right side bar on Page 11 with a small headline that read “Willie Wallops 500th HR; Ott’s 511 Next Goal.” While the historical milestone was captured in a brief piece, it was only the latest entry in a long list of achievements Mays would collect during his illustrious career.
Original publish date: September 25, 1965
Willie Wallops 500th HR; Ott’s 511 Next Goal
By Bob Stevens
HOUSTON, Tex. — With the count three balls and no strikes, fourth inning, Houston leading San Francisco, 1-0, Astro righthander Don Nottebart fired his next pitch low and away to Willie Mays, September 13, a historic date.
Willie watched it slide by, dropped his bat and headed for first base, content with a leadoff walk.
But the umpire croaked, “Strike one,” and Willie returned to the batter’s box and dug in. He bent over slightly and awaited the next pitch.
This one didn’t slide by. It went roaring into the corner of the left-center bleachers in the Astrodome, crashing five rows up. Bedlam broke loose. It was the 34-year-old wonder man’s 500th major league homer and he headed for the dugout on the wave of a thundering standing ovation by the crowd of 19,000.
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At the lip of the dugout, a hand reached out and grabbed Mays’ duke.
A voice said, “I saw your first one, Willie, and now your 500th. You’re a wonder.”
The hand and the voice belonged to Warren Spahn, ten years Willie’s senior and still a winning pitcher. And well he remembers Mays’ first home run, for it was thrown back in ’51 and Mays hit it in the Polo Grounds off Spahn, Willie’s first big league home run — his first big league hit of any kind.
Sitting stripped on the training room table after the game, Mays gathered journalists in a room that rumbled with excitement and just plain animal joy. The Giants, sparked to a four-run rally by Mays’ smash, had defeated Houston, 5-1, to jump two and one-half games ahead of Los Angeles as Juan Marichal registered victory No. 22.
“You know,” said Wilie, “it’s a tribute to that man, Spahn.
“He is older than me and still a winning pitcher and he’s been around long enough to see my first and my 500th.”
Asked if he got any particular thrill out of No. 500, Willie smiled and said:
“I just want to keep winning, to win the pennant. If the home runs come along the way, fine, but I don’t count them.”
Somebody said, “Do you know you’re only 11 behind Mel Ott now, Willie?”
Mays then revealed a side of himself he protects most of the time, but exposed this time. He knows and counts them.
“Sure,” he said. “It’s Ott 511, then Ted Williams 521, then Jimmie Foxx 534 and The Babe — he’s too far out in front. He’s got 714.”