SAN FRANCISCO -- Willie Mays, the "Say Hey Kid," turns 80 today. But his excellence remains timeless.Mays established himself as baseball's consummate five-tool player during his 22-year Major League career, the bulk of which he spent with the San Francisco Giants. Anybody who competed against Mays or regularly saw him play comprehended the breadth of his greatness long ago. Yet he remains relevant today as a paragon for present and future players to try to match. Not that this is sure to happen. Appreciation of Mays might have increased through the years, because nobody has come close to duplicating his multifaceted skills (12 consecutive Gold Glove Awards ... first to hit 30 homers and steal 30 bases in a season twice) or his flair (the basket catch ... running bases looking over his shoulder ... Say Hey!). "If there ever were a baseball god, it would be him," said former National League president Bill White, a Major League first baseman for 13 seasons. "Nobody could play like he could. Nobody." "I've answered the question a million times -- 'Who's the best player you ever saw?' Hands down, it's Willie," said venerable Los Angeles Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully. "I thought Willie had more to do with the outcome of a game than any player I've ever seen," said Ron Fairly, a player and broadcaster in the Majors for more than 50 years. "It was tough to play a game against the Giants without mentioning Mays' name. If he went 0-for-4, that was a story. Or he did something in center field to save the game. If he got one hit, it probably had something to do with the result of the game. And if he got two or more hits, there's no telling what he did."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.