Was Willie Mays better than Hank Aaron? A fan’s debate

Willie Mays turns 80 this year. He is widely considered as one of the best baseball players to ever live. He sits just below Babe Ruth on the all-time home run list and ranks above many great players in numerous statistical categories.

If Mays and Hank Aaron were free agents and only one player could be signed, who would a general manager offer a contract to? Certainly, it is understood that the particular makeup of his team would factor into the decision.

Mays used this glove to make "The Catch" in 1954. Does his defensive brilliance place him ahead of Aaron?
Wikimedia Commons

But, let's play fantasy GM for a moment as we consider this enticing opportunity.

Fielding

Mays had a .981 fielding percentage in 2,832 games as a center fielder. His time was mostly spent with the New York and San Francisco Giants. He did see limited action over two seasons for the New York Mets at the end of his career. During his career he won 12 Gold Gloves and made countless brilliant defensive plays, including one of the greatest catches of all time in the 1954 World Series.

While not as flashy as Mays, Aaron was no slouch with the glove. During the course of 2,760 games, mostly spent in right field with the Milwaukee and then the Atlanta Braves, he had a .980 fielding percentage. He also won three Gold Gloves.

Hitting

In 22 seasons, Mays played in 2,992 games, had 10,881 at-bats, hit .302, had 3,283 hits, 660 home runs, 1,903 RBIs, and scored 2,062 runs. He was the National League Rookie of the Year winner in 1951, a 20-time All-Star and won MVP awards in 1954 and 1965.

In 23 seasons, Aaron played in 3,298 games, had 12,364 at-bats, hit .305, had 3,771 hits, 755 home runs, 2,297 RBIs (the most all-time) and scored 2,174 runs. He is also the all-time total base leader with 6,856. He was a 21-time All-Star and won the MVP award in 1957.

You are the GM

So, was the 'Say Hey Kid' better than 'Hammerin' Hank'? That type of question is one of the reasons why baseball is such a great game.

Growing up in the Philadelphia region during the late 1970s and early 1980s naturally enabled everyone to become Philadelphia Phillies fans. My friends and I learned the game on little league fields, through trading cards, and by playing APBA. That era became an important part of our young lives.

Supportive family members and friends, as well as relentless persistence, created an opportunity for me to work in the front office for the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Red Barons in the early 1990s. Today, a new golden era has sparked a resurgence of baseball passion in everyone who never surrendered that feeling of their old school days.

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Updated Tuesday, May 3, 2011