Willie Mays Cards: The Definitive Guide
Willie Mays was one of the best five-tool players to ever play the game. A rare combination of blistering speed and defensive prowess complemented his blend of power and accuracy at the plate.
Willie Mays defined the way that the game should be played and his early childlike love for the game earned him the moniker – ‘The Say Hey Kid’.
Despite all of the success on the field, Mays had to endure racial pressures and a bit of an odd relationship with the media and fans alike.
Still to this day, Mays remains well respected as a ballplayer and to this day is considered to be on the all-time greats.
In this piece, we examine the most important and valuable baseball cards for Willie Mays, most of which are still highly sought after among vintage collectors. This covers Mays’ cards dating from 1951 through 1960.
The Say Hey Kid - Is He Underrated?
Willie Mays was the ballplayer that everyone wanted to be like. Even kids tried to copy his style early on. Mays was a cool cat on and off the field. The 'Say Hey Kid' was really the perfect nickname for Mays even though the reason he got it is not known to most baseball fans.
Sportswriter Barney Kremenko said that in Mays' rookie season, the reticent Mays "would blurt 'Say who,' 'Say what,' 'Say where,' 'Say hey.' In my paper, I tabbed him the 'Say Hey Kid.' It stuck."
Early on, it was quite clear that Mays had a bright future ahead. As a rookie with the New York Giants in 1951, Mays struggled out of the gate, with only one hit in his first 26 at bats. However, by the end of the year Mays would finish batting .274 earning the Rookie Of The Year award, leading the Giants to the World Series against the Yankees.
Over the course of his 22-year playing career, Mays would amass a career .302 batting average, with 660 home-runs, while winning two MVP awards and twelve gold glove awards.
Despite his impressive statistics, some believe that Mays could have been even better if it weren't for two major impediments. One, Mays missed nearly two years of baseball (a good portion of 1952 and the entire 1953 season) due to his serving in the Korean War.
Second, Mays played the bulk of his career (12 seasons) in Candlestick park which was notably an unfavorable hitters park due to the strong winds. Although this piece by Rob Neyer at ESPN theorizes that that potential park detriment has been overblown my many.
“Outside of Joe DiMaggio, Willie Mays is the greatest all-around baseball player of my time. Certainly he's been the most daring. Mays would steal home, a tough play and one in which you've got a great chance to look bad. Willie didn't even think of that, he'd just go. Nine times out of ten, he'd make it”
-Mickey Mantle on Willie Mays
Mays retired after the 1973 season, trying his hand as a hitting instructor with the Mets until 1979. Unfortunately, Mays never got the chance to manage a big league team. He was ultimately elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.
Willie Mays Hall of Fame Induction Speech
"This country is made up of a great many things. You can grow up to be what you want. I chose baseball, and I loved every minute of it. I give you one word—love. It means dedication. You have to sacrifice many things to play baseball. "
recommended Willie Mays resources
Willie Mays' Baseball Cards
1951 Bowman - Willie Mays #305
Current Value (PSA 8): $48K
Current PSA Population: 1800+
The 1951 Bowman set is one of my favorites - the beautiful artistic renderings offer in my mind one of the most beautiful sets of the early 1950's. The Mays card is considered to be his true rookie card. We noted the Bowman 1951 Mays as one of the holdings in our 'All Vintage Value Portfolio' due to our belief that the card still tends to be rather underappreciated.
Even though PSA has graded around 1800 copies, given the demand for Mays cards, we see the card to be a worthwhile investment for vintage collectors.
A good (PSA 2) condition copy can typically be found for $1500 to $2000 although of course higher graded versions sell for a lot higher.
1952 Berk Ross - Willie Mays #39
Current Value (PSA 2- Good Condition): $300
Current PSA Population: 220+
If the 1951 Bowman is the beauty, the 1952 Berk Ross Mays can basically be considered the beast. The Berk Ross set was likely an unlicensed issue, although we still view the set as an underrated issue.
While the Bowman set featured beautiful artistry, the Berk Ross set is rather crude with blurry images of the players. Still, the Mays card like the rest of the set is relatively scarce.
PSA has only graded roughly 220 copies, yet collectors can still find the card in excellent condition or lower for $500 and under. In my mind, given the scarcity versus other issues of era, an excellent long term investment.
1952 Bowman - Willie Mays #218
Current Value (PSA 8): $8K+
Current PSA Population: 1500+
Maybe not the same sort of overall striking appeal as his 1951 Bowman card, the 1952 Bowman Mays is still an attractive card. The 1952 issue removed the player's name in the black box from the front of the card and replaced it with a facsimile autograph.
The card still features a young Mays while a member of the New York Giants in batting pose featuring a cloudy blue sky in the background. PSA has graded around 1500 copies of the Mays '52 Bowman, making it amazingly a bit of a scarcer card versus his 1951 Bowman card (graded 1800+times by PSA).
1952 Red Man Tobacco - Willie Mays #15
Current Value (PSA 6- Excellent): $600
Current PSA Population: 200+
These hand-cut Red-Man Tobacco cards were hand cut and hard to find without the missing bottom tab. The cards feature striking colored backgrounds with a short bio in a rectangular box, all on the fronts of the cards.
Overall, the population is surprisingly low on these (only around 200 graded by PSA) and relative to other Mays cards offer tremendous value. At around $600 for a Excellent (PSA 6) copy, I think this is a good opportunity for vintage card investors. We also named the Ted Williams card from the set as one of the issues in our 'All Vintage Cards Value Portfolio'.
1952 Topps - Willie Mays #261
Current Value (PSA 9): $325K
Current PSA Population: 200+
Although not his true rookie card, the 1952 Topps Willie Mays card is the first Topps card to feature Mays and is one of the most valuable cards in the hobby.
The card isn’t truly scarce, PSA notes that over it has graded over 1600 cards, yet it is pretty rare to find one in mint condition, as only 13 have garnered a PSA 9 grade, with only one perfect 10.
High-grade versions of the card have reached monumental sales records in recent years. Five PSA 9 versions of the Mays card were sold in 2017, with prices ranging from $235,000 to $478,000.
1953 Topps - Willie Mays #244
Current Value (PSA 9): $130K
Current PSA Population: 1900+
The 1953 Topps set is a classic set, with cards featuring a stunning full size artist rendering. The black box overlay gives the cards a great look with the player name featured in white capital letters.
While the Mickey Mantle card from the set gets all the attention, the Mays '53 Topps card has roughly half the PSA population versus the Mantle card. This is because the Mays card is a high number card; the high numbers (#221 to #280) were short printed versus the other low number issues in the set.
As shown above via PSA price estimates, the Mantle card is worth about double the Mays in nearly all grades despite the Mays being a short printed card.
1954 Bowman - Willie Mays #89
Current Value (PSA 9): $13K
Current PSA Population: 2300+
Maybe one of the least appealing Bowman issues (in my opinion) this Mays card still features Willie as a member of the New York Giants, yet features players in a grainy photograph instead of the beautiful artistic renderings of the 1951 and 1952 Bowman sets. Also note that Mays was left out of the 1953 Bowman set due to being under contract with Topps.
The card is relatively easy to find, as PSA has graded over 2300 copies. While Mint issues have sold for over $10K in recent years, vintage collectors can easily find lower grade copies for less than $500.
Here's a link we've put together for 1954 Bowman Mays eBay listings -PSA 2 to PSA 5 graded cards selling for less than $350.
1954 Topps - Willie Mays #90
Current Value (PSA 9): $18K
Current PSA Population: 3300+
This is the third major issue from Topps and while it doesn't quite have the appeal of the 1952 and 1953 sets, it is still a very popular set with vintage collectors.
The good thing too is due to the higher population (PSA has graded over 3300 copies) the card is fairly affordable. As shown below, while Mint copies are worth close to $20K, you can find an Excellent copy for less than $400 or even a Good (PSA 2) copy for around $100.
1955 Bowman - Willie Mays #184
Current Value (PSA 9): $18K
Current PSA Population: 2000+
The 1955 Bowman set marked an adventurous design for Bowman, featuring player photos in the middle of a television set. Some don't like the design, but I tend to like it--in my opinion, a landmark design given that cabinet TV's are now a thing of the past.
This Bowman issue also tends to have a lower population versus many of the Topps issues from the era. Plus, condition is a big factor as the brown borders are easily chipped and discolored.
Given the sizeable population, investors can find lower grade 55 Bowman Mays cards for a decent price.
1955 Topps - Willie Mays #194
Current Value (PSA 9): $25K
Current PSA Population: 2700+
The 1955 Topps cards utilized the same portrait photo from the 1954 Topps set while moving to a horizontal format. Note that the 1955 Bowman issue also marked a move to a horizontal format.
This Mays card tends to have a lower population versus some of the more popular cards from the set.
As PSA notes:
Similar scarce, to some extent, are #s 151-160, meaning that Mays, Berra or Snider are often more scarce than Williams, Robinson or Aaron.
1956 Topps - Willie Mays #130
Current Value (PSA 9): $11K
Current PSA Population: 5000+
The 1956 Topps set continued with the horizontal format and Topps continued to use the same exact portrait! This marked three sets in a row where Topps utilized the same portrait image, although the smaller action shot is different on each card.
This also showed Topps picking up production a bit, as evidenced by the increased PSA population; 5000+ for the 1956 Topps Mays versus 2700+ for the 1955 Topps Mays issue.
Note that with the 1956 Topps set, there is both a gray back and a white back issue. The 'white back' Mays card is much rarer, with only 450+ copies graded by PSA, and 4500+ of the 'gray back' Mays graded by PSA. Interestingly enough there doesn't really seem to be much of a premium associated with the 'white back' card.
Given the sizeable population, this is a fairly inexpensive card for any Mays collectors. Here's a list from eBay of 1956 Topps Mays graded issues selling for less than $150.
DID YOU KNOW?
Following his retirement from baseball, Mays took a job with the Park Place Casino in Atlantic City. Mays worked as a greeter at the casino, but the relationship with a gambling outfit upset Major League Baseball, leading to suspension of Mays from the league. In 1985, the ban was lifted by then acting commissioner Peter Ueberroth.
1957 Topps - Willie Mays #10
Current Value (PSA 9): $11K
Current PSA Population: 4300+
The 1957 Topps set marked the return to a vertical design and is one of favorite designs from the 1950's Topps sets. Just pure simplicity, a full sized player photo, with white borders and offsetting white and yellow text for the player and team names.
PSA has graded over 4000 copies of the 1957 Topps Mays card. As with many of the preceding Topps issues, it's pretty easy to find a lower grade copy for less than $100. Of course, the higher in grade you go, the higher the price.
1958 Topps - Willie Mays #5
Current Value (PSA 8): $4K
Current PSA Population: 3500+
The 1958 Topps issue marked Mays' first card as a member of the transplanted San Francisco Giants. The cards are attractive and Mays' card features the 'Say Hey Kid' with his trademark smile, although based on reports, the transition to San Francisco from New York was a tough one for Mays.
PSA has graded over 3500 copies of the 1958 Topps Mays card. As with many of the preceding Topps issues, it's pretty easy to find a lower grade copy for less than $100. Of course, the higher in grade you go, the higher the price.
1959 Topps - Willie Mays #50
Current Value (PSA 9): $4K
Current PSA Population: 4400+
The 1959 Topps cards had a similar sort of feel to the 1958 issue, although the players are surrounded by one bright background color. In my mind, maybe one of the uglier Topps sets of the 1950s.
PSA has graded over 4000 of the 1959 Mays card, a similar amount to the 1958 Topps set, thus, the pricing between the two years is mostly around the same. Thus, lower graded copies are easily found for less than $100.
1960 Topps - Willie Mays #200
Current Value (PSA 9): $8K
Current PSA Population: 4500+
The 1960 Topps cards moved to more of a comic book feel and I like the looks of these cards, which also moved to the horizontal design which was last seen in the 1956 Topps issue.
PSA has graded over 4000 copies of the 1960 Topps Mays card. The card is seemingly more popular than many of the preceeding late 1950's Topps issues. Higher grade copies tend to sell more than some of those similar population based issues.