Was Willie Mays Ever Close To Being The Home Run King Over Babe Ruth?
Willie Mays went down as one of the greatest players in baseball history when his career was all said and done. The Hall-of-Famer won two MVP awards, was named to 24 All-Star games, and won a multitude of other awards throughout his career. Mays also accumulated 3,293 hits and 660 home runs, which puts him sixth on the MLB’s all-time home runs list. As Mays’ career unfolded, many wondered if he would pass Babe Ruth as the home run king. Although Mays showed promise for passing Ruth's record, the slugger fell short of passing the longtime Yankee as the “Home Run King.”
Babe Ruth’s Career
Babe Ruth was the first major home run hitter in baseball history. The right fielder led the league in homers at 23 years old with just 11 home runs. After being traded to the Yankees, Ruth’s power translated to five straight seasons of 35 HRs or more. The Hall-of-Famer continued to lead the league in home runs from 1926 to 1931, including his famous 60-homer season in 1927. When his career was over, Ruth was the major league leader with 714 home runs.
Willie Mays’ Career
Willie Mays started his career by winning the Rookie of the Year award with 20 home runs in 1951. When Mays returned from military service in 1954, he won the MVP with 41 HRs. The power-hitter smashed 29 or more homers in each of the following 12 seasons after 1954. Mays won his second Most Valuable Player award in 1965 when he slugged a career-high 52 home runs for San Francisco. Mays finished his career in the MLB with 660 home runs which put him second all-time at the time of his retirement in 1973.
Was Mays Close to Babe Ruth?
Willie Mays was the first player to challenge Ruth’s home run record. Babe hit 714 home runs in his career, and Mays hit 660. A comparison of the two players’ careers can show that although Mays had potential, he could not topple Ruth as the Home Run King. By the time each player completed their age-23 seasons, Mays led the race with 65 homers compared to Ruth’s 20.
Over the next ten years of each of the Hall-of-Famers’ careers, they put up similar numbers. Ruth put up 496 homers over that span while Mays hit 440 HRs. That puts Ruth just ahead of Mays, with 516 home runs through his age-34 season, while Mays had 505 homers.
The thing that separated the two ballplayers was the fact that Ruth’s power hitting continued while Mays’ began to fall off later in his career. Babe Ruth hit 49 and 46 homers at ages 35 and 36, respectively. Babe Ruth even hit 41 home runs at 37. Meanwhile, Mays tallied 37 HRs at 35 years old but never had more than 28 for the rest of his career. Although Mays ended up playing for one more season, his power tapered off at the tail end of his career, which prevented the Hall-of-Famer from passing Ruth for the most home runs in MLB history.