The great Willie Mays turns 82 years old today. To look at the Say Hey Kid's Baseball Reference page is to get the feeling of being yelled at, given the overwhelming amount of boldfaced characters that grace his register. A 24-time All-Star, Mays led the National League in home runs four times, OPS five times, and if advanced statistics are more your speed, well, the man posted six seasons of 10+ bWAR. No other player in the post-integration era has more than three such seasons to his name. If you're the sort who doesn't cotton to numbers at all, understand that Mays was the type lauded by those few peers who could match his excellence and longevity as perhaps the best to ever take the field. Ted Williams said, "They invented the All-Star Game for Willie Mays" while Stan Musial, the only player to appear in the Midsummer Classic as often as Mays did called him "the perfect ballplayer".
Of course, Mays achieved the bulk of his heroics as a member of the Giants organization. His time with the Mets wasn't nearly as decorated, though neither was it without merit. Brought back to New York one month into the 1972 season, Mays, at 41, posted one of the better age-relative seasons in baseball history. Despite being the oldest non-pitcher in the league, Mays still reached base in 40% of his plate appearances for the Mets, finished behind only Rusty Staub in slugging percentage, and wound up a tenth of a win off the team lead in bWAR. Granted, the '72 Mets were a below-average offensive unit, but the 1.8 wins above replacement Mays accumulated was impressive given his age and the fact that he only played in 88 games. Prorate that over a full season and that's a level of production on par with what Mays's godson Barry Bonds did in the last two years of his career.
The '73 season wasn't as kind to Mays as his homecoming campaign. Age finally caught up with the Say Hey Kid, as he posted an OPS+ under 100 for the first time ever. The bat was still potent on occasion, though. While he famously fell down while tracking a fly ball during Game Two of the 1973 World Series, Mays redeemed himself by hitting a tie-breaking single in the 12th inning of the contest. Seems more fair, especially on his birthday, to remember him that way.
Anyone who had to share a birthday with a more popular kid in school can sympathize with utility player Mike Kinkade, who turns 40 today. A Met from 1998 to 2000, Kinkade logged time at every corner position plus catcher. His Flushing tenure ended when he was included in the Melvin Mora-Mike Bordick trade.
Game of Note
The Mets picked up their first ever extra-inning win on this date in 1962. Trailing the Phillies 5-3 in the eighth, Frank Thomas led off with a triple and then came around to score one batter later thanks to an error by Philadelphia third baseman Frank Torre. Pinch hitter Jim Marshall followed with an RBI single to knot the game. That's how it remained until Gil Hodges strode to the plate with the bases loaded in the 12th. The taciturn Hoosier split the outfielders with a clean line drive to bring home a pair and Roger Craig made that lead stand up by retiring the bowels of the Phillies lineup with minimal drama in the bottom half of the frame. Final score: Mets 7, Phillies 5.
Amazin'-ly Tenuous Connection
It was 76 years ago today that the Hindenburg exploded over the Naval Air Station in Lakehurst, New Jersey. According to Baseball Reference, the only baseball player to hail from Lakehurst is former Cardinals Rich Croushore, a reliever who had Tony LaRussa crying "oh, the humanity" on June 20, 1999. Brought on to protect a two-run lead against the Mets, Croushore allowed a pair of inherited runners to score, plus one of his own to give the visiting New Yorkers a lead they wouldn't relinquish. One year later as a member of the Rockies, Croushore again melted down when facing the Mets. In one-and-a-third innings of relief, the right hander gave up five runs to turn a 6-2 affair into an 11-2 laugher. All told, Met batters put up an .951 OPS against Croushore. To put that in perspective, Willie Mays OPSed .941 for his career.