Willie Mays finally broke through on May 28, 1951 and he did it in style, against a future Hall of Famer.
A 20-year-old rookie center fielder, Mays was called up to the New York Giants in 1951 and went hitless in his first 12 at bats. It was not the start anyone had envisioned for his career after he tore up the minor leagues. But on May 28 everything changed.
The Giants hosted the Boston Braves that day, and face Warren Spahn was on the hill for the visiting team. Mays got his chance early, as he was batting third and got to dig in with two outs in the first inning. Mays didn't just get a hit off Spahn, he blasted a home run over the left field roof at the Polo Grounds. A legend was born.
Mays obviously found his footing in the big leagues after that. He wound up hitting .274 with 20 home runs and 68 RBI on his way to being named NL Rookie of the Year. He only improved from there.
Throughout his storied career, Mays was named an All-Star in 20 seasons, he won two MVP awards, 12 Gold Gloves and led the NL in home runs four times. He led the NL in OPS five times and finished his career with 660 home runs and ranks third all-time in career WAR (156.2). Mays hit .302 for his career and finished with 3,282 career hits. His power/speed combination was something few could match, as he was the first player in MLB history to have 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases. He finished with 338 swiped bags for his career.
Mays also led the Giants to a World Series title in 1954, where he made the most famous catch in baseball history:
He was truly one of the greatest players to ever set foot on a baseball diamond, and without a doubt the best all-around center fielder in MLB history.
Warren Spahn did alright for himself as well. He finished his 21-year career with 363 wins, the most in baseball history for a left-handed pitcher. The 17-time All-Star also won a World Series and the Cy Young Award in 1957.
It's rare that two legends collide and create a magical, historical moment. That happened 69 years ago today.