In this new, ongoing series, we explore various sets on the PSA Set Registry, featuring the trading cards of iconic athletes. Select cards will be highlighted and the requirements of each set will be included.
Willie Mays is nicknamed “The Say Hey Kid” and got his very first major league hit – a home run – off Hall of Fame southpaw Warren Spahn. Mays, playing for the New York Giants, squared off on May 28, 1951, against the Boston Braves and Spahn, the winningest left-hander in MLB history. Having gone hitless in his first 12 MLB at-bats, Mays was anxious. But in the bottom half of the first inning, he crushed a pitch by Spahn to deep left field to cut the Giants’ lead to 3-1. It was Mays’ first of 660 career round-trippers.
A speedy center fielder, Mays went on to capture the N.L. Rookie of the Year award that season after batting .274 with 127 hits including 20 home runs. Willie’s impact was immediate as he helped the Giants reach the World Series that season and then made more headlines in 1954 when he helped the Giants win their first World Series since 1933 after sweeping the Cleveland Indians. An eighth-inning, over-the-shoulder catch by Mays on the warning track in Game 1 – with the score tied 2-2 – helped prevent the Indians from taking the lead and the Giants eventually won in extra innings, 5-2.
He captured his first of two N.L. MVP awards in 1954 (’65 was the other) and registered the first of his record 24 All-Star Game selections. During his prolific career, Mays registered 3,283 hits, knocked in 1,903 runs and recorded a lifetime batting average of .302. He was an easy first-ballot Hall of Fame selection into Cooperstown in 1979.
Let’s recognize Mays’ amazing exploits on the diamond by looking at four key cards (in chronological order) in his basic set checklist:
Mays entered the league the same season (1951) as his Big Apple counterpart, Mickey Mantle, and his only recognized rookie card is found in the ‘51 Bowman Baseball release. Card #305 marked his cardboard debut as “The Say Hey Kid” is shown via a pregame batting practice photo that’s enhanced by painted color as he follows the path of an incoming pitch. The ’51 Bowman set consisted of 324 cards measuring 2-1/16” by 3-1/8” with Mays rookie card front presented horizontally. As with other high-numbered cards in the set, this card is sometimes plagued by wax and gum staining. The card has a PSA population report of 1,444 of which none has ever been graded PSA Gem Mint 10 . Eight of the submissions have earned PSA Mint 9 status, while 76 others have been judged PSA Near Mint-Mint 8.
In trying to complete Willie’s basic set checklist on the PSA Set Registry, this is the most heavily weighted card (10.00) of them all. Weights are determined by the card’s secondary market value using a scale from 1.00 to 10.00 with 10.00 being the most expensive. Using three varying PSA grades for the card, here are its current industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $1,627.77
PSA Excellent 5: $5,156.56
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $47,530.00
This second-year issue is one of Mays’ toughest cards to find and remains a key to the 1952 Bowman Baseball set, which consists of 252 cards, each measuring 2-1/8″ wide by 3-1/8” wide. Card #218 shows a slightly squinting Mays via a color reproduction of a vertical photograph with his facsimile signature laid across his chest in black. While not as popular as his 1952 Topps card, it is certainly tougher to find in high-grade. The card has a PSA population report of 1,227 of which not a single submission has ever been graded PSA Gem Mint 10. Six submissions have earned the PSA Mint 9 ranking, while 70 others have been labeled in PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 condition.
This is the fourth most heavily weighted card (6.50) on PSA’s Mays basic set checklist. Using three varying PSA grades for the card, here are its industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $305.00
PSA Excellent 5: $840.65
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $7,685.36
This is the first Topps card to feature Willie Mays, arriving one year after his Bowman rookie offering. The 1952 Topps Baseball set consists of 407 cards, each measuring 2-5/8″ by 3-3/4”. The set was issued in six distinct “Series” groups, and the Fifth Series (cards #251 to #310) is easily anchored by Mays on card #261. Besides marking his very first Topps card ever produced, this card takes collectors back in history as Mays – the reigning NL ROY – played in just 34 games in ’52 before joining the U.S. Army in May. It’s a piece of Americana and military history all rolled into one. His card front portrait was recreated from a photo showing a very contemplative Mays in his Giants uniform. The card has a PSA population report of 1,830 of which only one has ever been graded PSA Gem Mint 10. Nine others have earned PSA Mint 9 status, while 59 more have been designated in PSA Near Mint-Mint 8.
Based largely on its desirability being his first Topps issue, this card is the third most heavily weighted one (8.00) on Mays’ basic set checklist. Using three varying PSA grades for the card, here are its industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $918.52
PSA Excellent 5: $2,892.00
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $32,817.32
The 1953 Topps Baseball set consists of 274 cards, each measuring 2-5/8″ wide by 3-3/4” high. It’s a stunning set with great artwork of each player featured. The attention to detail used in illustrating Willie making a basket catch or perhaps scooping up a grounder that made it to the outfield is just sensational. The card was also a short print and is tough to find in high grade due to obstacles like the black bottom border showcasing his name. It has a PSA population report of 1,616 of which just one has ever earned top billing as PSA Gem Mint 10. Two others have been graded PSA Mint 9 and 44 more have earned PSA Near Mint-Mint 8 standing.
This ranks as the second most heavily weighted card (9.00) in Willie’s basic set checklist. Using three varying PSA grades for the card, here are its industry average auction prices:
PSA Good 2: $475.83
PSA Excellent 5: $1,783.15
PSA Near Mint-Mint 8: $31,150.00
Six years after retiring in 1973, Willie made his way to upstate New York. His plaque in Cooperstown reads like the resume of a baseball prodigy: “One of baseball’s most colorful and exciting stars. Excelled in all phases of the game. Third in homers (660), runs (2,062) and total bases (6,066); seventh in hits (3,283) and RBIs (1,903). First in putouts by outfielders (7.095). First to top both 300 homer and 300 steals. Led league in batting once, slugging five times, home runs and steals four seasons. Voted N.L. MVP in 1954 and 1965. Played in 24 All-Star Game – a record.”
Willie Mays is now 88 years old. His appearances at industry shows has predictably slowed down. But the fascination and allure of having a piece of Willie’s legacy remains strong for baseball collectors young and old. That’s why the challenge of putting together an impressive set of one of baseball’s greatest players remains a worthwhile pursuit for any serious card collector. Go ahead and try to pin down the 27 cards that comprise The Say Hey Kid’s basic set on the PSA Set Registry.
Willie Mays Cards Required to Complete the Set
(including PSA ‘Weights’)
- 1951 BOWMAN WILLIE MAYS #305 (10.00)
- 1952 BOWMAN WILLIE MAYS #218 (6.50)
- 1952 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #261 (8.00)
- 1953 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #244 (9.00)
- 1954 BOWMAN WILLIE MAYS #89 (3.00)
- 1954 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #90 (3.50)
- 1955 BOWMAN WILLIE MAYS #184 (2.50)
- 1955 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #194 (3.50)
- 1956 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #130 (3.00)
- 1957 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #10 (3.00)
- 1958 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #5 (3.25)
- 1959 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #50 (2.50)
- 1960 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #200 (2.50)
- 1961 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #150 (2.00)
- 1962 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #300 (3.25)
- 1963 FLEER WILLIE MAYS #5 (2.50)
- 1963 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #300 (2.75)
- 1964 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #150 (2.00)
- 1965 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #250 (2.50)
- 1966 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #1 (3.50)
- 1967 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #200 (2.00)
- 1968 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #50 (2.50)
- 1969 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #190 (2.00)
- 1970 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #600 (2.00)
- 1971 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #600 (2.50)
- 1972 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #49 (2.00)
- 1973 TOPPS WILLIE MAYS #305 (1.00)