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Willie Mays could've been a Yankee

Sep 14, 2009, 9:45 AM EDT

Between 1951 and 1973, the Yankees won 12 pennants and seven World Championships. Between 1951 and 1973, Willie Mays established himself as the greatest centerfielder in the history of baseball, and depending on how you measure it, one of the top three or four players of all time (I got Ruth and Wagner 1-2, and I’d be hard pressed to put anyone else above Mays). Imagine, then, what could have happened if the Yankees had listened to their scouts and signed him in 1949 and 1950 when they had the chance. Seems they could have had Ernie Banks too.

I’m not a huge alternate history buff, but the implications of Willie Mays on the 1950s and 1960s New York Yankees boggle the mind. You have to figure that he moves Mantle off of centerfield and to a corner. Does Mantle hold up better health-wise playing right field? Heck, maybe the Yankees try to make Mantle work at shortstop where he started out, he flames out on defense and is allowed to get signed by the St. Louis Browns or something. Does Mays gain the same reputation for his speed and defense playing in a smaller centerfield in the non-running American League? Does Giants owner Horace Stoneham get the same kind of offer he received from San Francisco to move the team west, or is he stuck with his original plan to move the Giants to Minnesota? The shoes that drop (or don’t) after that business is dealt with are innumerable, but this Braves fan likes the idea of there being no Minnesota Twins in 1991.

I’m sure there are 1,000 other implications of such a move. If you have any particularly mind-blowing ones, by all means, offer them up in the comments.

  1. Denny - Sep 14, 2009 at 10:14 AM

    How many home runs he would have hit had his home field been Yankee Stadium? They played a lot more day games back then and there were no left field bleachers, to speak of, at Candlestick Park to block the wind coming in off the Bay. That may have been enough to put him ahead of Ruth’s 714. Never mind his time spent in the military.

  2. Craig Calcaterra - Sep 14, 2009 at 10:16 AM

    True, Denny. But he would have lost a ton of homers by not being in the homer-friendly Polo Grounds before 1958.

  3. Denny - Sep 14, 2009 at 10:45 AM

    Craig,
    My stats book is at home. How many round trippers did he hit prior to moving out west and how many less would he have playing in Yankee Stadium during that period? Then, how many were knocked down or blew back into play before the bleachers were added at Candlestick? Even after they were added? I was a stout Giants fan back in those days and Mays was my favorite player. I know this is off track a bit but give him his 2 years in the military back and put in in the same ball parks that Aaron played in.

  4. glumsby - Sep 14, 2009 at 10:54 AM

    Great Story,
    As a New Yorker who grew up with Mays-Mantle and Duke Snider that would have been fascinating. As it turned out it was terrific as it was with the Giant/Dogers/Yankees center fielders!!

  5. Jason @ IIATMS - Sep 14, 2009 at 10:55 AM

    Maybe there would have finally been a call for a slotting process in the draft? (tongue firmly planted in cheek)

  6. Howie Kaplin - Sep 14, 2009 at 11:02 AM

    Craig – it’s an interesting idea, but one that has so little basis in reality that it can’t measure up to the DiMaggio-Williams switch. The reason I say this is that the American League, and the Yankees in particular were so far from bringing in an African American player. Not until Elston Howard in 1955 did they bring one in. And it’s been well documented that the National League was so much more progressive….look who dominated the All Star games then…..So, I find it hard to visulize Willie playing for the Yankees.

  7. David Burden - Sep 14, 2009 at 11:32 AM

    My gramps (Jack Schwarz) was involved in signing Mays for the Giants. If you want an alternate history idea, here you go: he told me that he had a verbal agreement to sign Hank Aaron. Trouble was, the Braves made a higher offer to Aaron’s club, and that club took the higher offer without calling the Giants back for a counter-offer.
    Full disclosure:
    Ya gotta be careful with these anecdotes. I did a little web search on “Jack Schwarz Willie Mays”, and got the link below, which seems to imply that my grandpa owned the team. :) His actual title was “Director of Player Development” by the time he retired in the early 80s – not sure what it was when Mays was signed. As I understand things, he was basically the office manager of the scouting department.
    http://books.google.com/books?id=vm5H5R8EfMcC&pg=PA58&lpg=PA58&dq=jack+schwarz+willie+mays&source=bl&ots=eyeSIsrD_g&sig=t9ba4QtnbEttnEStqWnOI9_RODM&hl=en&ei=nV-uSszNKYOItgfM6tDQCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1#v=onepage&q=jack%20schwarz%20willie%20mays&f=false

  8. joe speranzi - Sep 14, 2009 at 1:52 PM

    Mantle, Mays and Maris on the same team….one can only dream.

  9. Oldtimer - Sep 14, 2009 at 4:58 PM

    The other thing that would have happened would have been that with Willie in center, Roger Maris would have probably never been a Yankee.
    Mays would have hit many more homers at Yankee stadium. Willie hit the low outside pitch to right with as much power as anyone ever has. With that short right field wall he could have probably added a hundred dingers to his total. Mays was the greatest player of all time, no question in this baseball fan’s mind.
    Ruth was a great one, as was Wagner, Clemente, some others could be included in the discussion. Mays had no equal in the field, could pull any pitcher, but hit equally well to the opposite field, could run like the wind and knew how to run the bases. He had one thing that really distinguishes him – he loved to be on the diamond. I doubt he ever played with a hangover. His number one priority was to play.
    I believe Bo Jackson could have been a player of the equal to Willie, but Bo didn’t dedicate himself to baseball. His foray into football cost him, what could have been, a brilliant career.

  10. robert james - Sep 14, 2009 at 4:58 PM

    Remember, they also had Jackie Jensen at the same time as Mantle.
    He did pretty ,pretty good for the Senators and Red Sox when they let him go.
    outfield of Mays , Mantle Jensen ,not bad.

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