It might be quicker to say what the “Say Hey Kid” doesn’t bring to a lineup than what he does, but that wouldn’t be much fun. In a sentence that, by itself, won’t come close to doing him justice: he was the greatest defensive center fielder that ever lived and quite possibly the best right-handed batter to pick up a stick. That says nothing of his base running or the grace with which he did everything.
He patrolled the cavernous center fields of the Polo Grounds of Gotham and frigid Candlestick of San Francisco like a skater on ice – with unparalleled skill and a strong & accurate arm (as evidenced by 195 career outfield assists), so brilliantly displayed in “The Catch” from the ’54 Series. They introduced the Rawlings Gold Glove in 1957, an honor – much like the All-Star game – that was fashioned for Mays. He won it that first year and each of the next 11.
From the year of his first Most Valuable Player award in 1954 to ‘65 (when he won his second and last MVP), he accumulated between 113 and 119 WAR according to Baseball-Reference and Fangraphs, an average of nearly 10 wins when eight is considered MVP quality. A typical season during that 12-year span for Mays included 40 home runs, 22 thefts, 118 runs, 109 runs batted in and a slash line of .318/.392/.605, all while he dazzled with some of the most brilliant outfield play the world has ever seen.
Willie also had a flair about him, something special. His first hit in the big leagues was a clout off of none other than Warren Spahn. And as brilliant as Cobb, Speaker and, especially Mantle, were, it wouldn’t be a ball team without Willie out in center and hitting in the middle of the lineup."