Regarded as one of the greatest players of all time, Willie Mays set himself up as a superstar in his first season with the major leagues.
He won the NL Rookie of the year in 1951 before becoming a 24-time All-Star player, and an almost permanent addition to the MVP shortlist.
Willie Mays was a popular player, and throughout his impressive career he was featured in many sports card collections. In this guide, we’ve taken a look at the stand-out Willie Mays cards that all collectors should covet.
1951 Bowman Willie Mays RC #305
The 1951 Bowman Willie Mays RC #305 is the only Willie Mays rookie card produced (see also “What Is A Rookie Card?“), and it’s a big get for any baseball card collector.
Well, it’s the only Willie Mays rookie card actually produced during his rookie season, but we’ll cover that in more detail below.
Willie Mays appeared in his first major league game on May 25th. But it wasn’t until May 28th that he made his first hit.
He was something of a late bloomer in his rookie season, which might explain why this is the only Willie Mays card from 1951, and why he was a late addition to the series (at #305, there were many players listed before him)!
But by the end of the season, he was shining, and Mays was named the 1951 NL Rookie of the Year.
The only Willie Mays card from 1951, it’s easy to see why this is such a desirable option.
As well as being the first Wilie Mays card, the 1951 Bowman has an aesthetic appeal for collectors. The card depicts Mays poised to strike, and the likeness is excellent.
But what really makes this card stand out is the background. Mays is posed against an orange curtain, rather than an open field. A strange choice, but one that makes the card extra special for collectors.
The 1951 card is rare, and quality examples can sell for an impressive sum.
1952 Topps Willie Mays #261
1952 was only the second year Topps produced baseball cards, and it was the first time the set featured Willie Mays.
Although it wasn’t from his rookie season, the 1952 Topps Willie Mays #261 is often viewed as one of his rookie cards. It’s also among the most desirable Willie Mays cards.
The 1952 Topps Willie Mays #261 isn’t the best image of Mays to be captured, but the splashy marquee-style name combined with the facsimile of an autograph gives the card an undeniable appeal.
There are a few high-quality versions of the 1952 Topps Willie Mays card around, but they can set you back a princely sum. The most common error found on the cards is centering, so keep an eye out for that if you come across one.
1952 Berk Ross Willie Mays #7
The Berk Ross set from 1952 is a slightly underrated collection that’s growing in popularity among sports card fans (see also “Best Magnifying Glass For Sports Cards“). The Berk Ross Wille Mays card is sometimes considered a rookie card, as it was released at roughly the same time as the 1952 Topps.
In terms of appearance, the 1952 Berk Ross Willie Mays is not going to be the most stunning card in your collection. The picture is low quality and there’s little in the way of decoration.
The back of the card has some basic stats to go with the simple picture.
Despite the dull design, the 1952 Berk Ross Willie Mays is still considered a classic by collectors. As a lesser-known brand, the card can be hard to come by, but it tends to be better priced than the Topps or Bowman equivalent.
1952 Bowman Willie Mays #218
Using the same image as the 1951 card but with a different overall design, the 1952 Bowman Willie Mays #218 is an attractive card.
Mays is once again poised with his bat ready to swing, but this time, he’s in front of a blue sky and his image dominates the card.
The 1952 Bowman has removed the black name box and replaced it with a facsimile of an autograph.
The impressive design combined with the rarity of the card has made it a top pick for any collector, and cards in good condition can fetch a good price.
1953 Topps Willie Mays #244
The full-body image that adorns the front of the 1953 Topps Willie Mays #244 makes it a stand out among his early career cards. It’s also notable for being a Willie Mays card from 1953.
He wasn’t actually playing this year, as he was serving in the Korean War.
The 1953 card features an image of Mays as an outfielder for the New York Giants. He’s hunkered down with a ball in his glove and his full Giants kit on show.
1954 Topps Willie Mays #90
1954 marked a departure from the standard Topps design, moving from the single portrait to the double image. This card features a large portrait of Mays to the left, with a full-body action shot to the right.
The bright yellow background of this card makes it distinctive in any collection. The 1954 card is also notable for capturing an important year in Mays’ playing career.
He won the world series with the Giants and made the incredible catch that’s become an iconic sporting moment.
1959 Topps Baseball Thrills – Mays’ Catch Makes Series History #464
Speaking of “The Catch” — the 1959 Topps Baseball Thrills Mays’ Catch Makes Series History card might not be the rarest Willie Mays card around, but this iconic design deserves a mention.
Mays made “The Catch” during game 1 of the 1954 World Series. It was a stunning running grab made over the shoulder roughly 425 feet from the home plate.
The three-panel Topps card is a favorite with collectors, even if it isn’t the rarest Mays card.
Willie Mays might have had a slow start to his first major league season, but he soon proved himself a worthy addition to any baseball card collection.
Early years cards are the most highly prized among collectors, but this popular player is a feature of many series.