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September 2019

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U.S. Census Bureau History: Willie Mays' 600th Home Run

Willie Mays and Roy Campanella

Willie Mays greets Roy Campanella in 1961. Campanella was a catcher who rose through the
Negro Leagues to join the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1948. His career was cut short following a
car accident in 1958.

Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Fifty years ago this month, on September 22, 1969, San Francisco Giants center fielder Willie Mays hit his 600th home run in a game against the San Diego Padres. At the time, only Mays and the legendary "Sultan of Swat" Babe Ruth managed to hit 600 "dingers" during their professional baseball careers.

Willie Mays was born in Westfield, Jefferson County, AL, in 1931. He began playing professional baseball for the Chattanooga Choo-Choos of Chattanooga, TN, in 1947, while still a student at Fairfield Industrial High School. At age 17, he joined the Birmingham Black Barons, where he played in weekend games until graduating from high school. After signing with the New York Giants, Mays played with their minor league affiliates in Trenton, NJ, and Minneapolis, MN.

On May 25, 1951, Willie Mays joined the New York Giants in his first Major League Baseball game against the Philadelphia Phillie's at Shibe Park Link to a non-federal Web site, in Philadelphia, PA. Hitless in his first 12 plate appearances, Mays' first Major League hit was a home run against Boston Braves pitching ace Warren Spahn on May 28 at New York's famed Polo Grounds Link to a non-federal Web site. Later that season, the Giants defeated the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the National League Pennant, but fell to the New York Yankees in the 1951 World Series. Mays concluded his rookie year with a .274 batting average and 20 home runs.

The Korean War interrupted Mays' baseball career along with the careers of many other ballplayers, including future hall-of-famers Ted Williams, Ernie Banks, Don Newcombe, and Jerry Coleman. Drafted in 1952 after playing 34 games, Mays exchanged his Giants jersey for a U.S. Army uniform. He missed the remainder of the 1952 and all of the 1953 seasons while playing baseball for the U.S. Army's team at Fort Eustis, VA. Upon his return to the Giants lineup in 1954, Mays hit 41 home runs, had a National League-leading .345 batting average, received the National League Most Valuable Player Award, played in his first of 19 consecutive All-Star games, and won his first and only World Series Championship as the Giants swept the Cleveland Indians in four games.

In 1957, Mays won the first of 12 Rawlings Gold Glove Awards. He followed the Giants to San Francisco, CA, after their relocation to the city in 1958, and led the team to a National League Pennant victory in 1962 with a team leading 49 home runs, 141 runs batted in, and 18 stolen bases. Three years later, he hit a career-high 52 home runs, including his 500th career "homer" on September 13, 1965, against Houston Astros pitcher Don Nottebart.

Willie Mays played with the San Francisco Giants until traded to the New York Mets in May 1972. He donned the Mets uniform for the first time during his Shea Stadium Link to a non-federal Web site debut against his former team on May 14, 1972, helping the Mets beat the Giants with a fifth inning home run. On August 16, 1973, Mays hit his 660th and last home run of his major league career during a game against the Cincinnati Reds. That same year, he made his last World Series Championship appearance in a seven-game series that saw the Mets lose to the Oakland Athletics.

The San Francisco Giants retired Mays' jersey number "24" after his retirement and the Baseball Writers' Association of America Link to a non-federal Web site elected Willie Mays to the Baseball Hall of Fame Link to a non-federal Web site in Cooperstown, NY, in 1979. Fifty years after hitting his 600th home run, Willie Mays remains the fifth most prolific home run slugger, behind Barry Bonds (762), Hank Aaron (755), Babe Ruth (714), and Alex Rodriguez (696). The San Francisco Giants dedicated a statue of Willie Mays surrounded by 24 palm trees (representing his jersey number) prior to the opening of their new stadium on March 31, 2000. The address of Oracle Park Link to a non-federal Web site—home of the San Francisco Giants—is 24 Willie Mays Plaza.

You can learn more about baseball and some of the game's greatest players using census data and records. For example:

  • Willie Mays was born on May 6, 1931, in Westfield, AL, near the city of Fairfield, in Jefferson County, AL. One year before his birth, Jefferson County's population was 431,493. Shortly before Mays' Major League Baseball debut, the 1950 Census found the county's population was 558,928. Today, Jefferson County, AL, is home to 659,300.
  • Willie Mays' rookie year with the New York Giants was in 1951. In that year, total baseball attendance for the nation's 16 Major League Baseball teams was 16,126,676 Link to a non-federal Web site—equivalent to nearly 11 percent of the total 1950 U.S. resident population of 151,325,798. In 2008, attendance was 79,975,000—equivalent to more than 25 percent of the U.S. resident population of 308,745,538 at the time of the 2010 Census.
  • Following the 1957 baseball season, heartbroken New York baseball fans saw their beloved New York Giants and Brooklyn Dodgers move to new homes in California. Since the Giants moved to San Francisco, CA, its population has grown from 740,316 in 1960 to 883,305 in 2018. After the Brooklyn Dodgers moved to Los Angeles, CA, that city's population grew from 2,479,015 to 3,990,456, making Los Angeles the nation's second largest urban place after New York City, NY.
  • The Baseball Writers' Association of America Link to a non-federal Web site elected Willie Mays to the Baseball Hall of Fame Link to a non-federal Web site in Cooperstown, NY, in 1979. He joins a number of New York and San Francisco Giants hall-of-famers including pitchers Christy Mathewson and Gaylord Perry; first baseman Willie McCovey; center fielder Duke Snider; outfielder and first baseman Frank Robinson; and shortstop and first and third baseman Tony Lazzeri.
  • Since Willie Mays' Major League debut in 1951, the number of Major League baseball teams has grown from 16 to 30. Some of the newly added teams are the Los Angeles Angels in Anaheim, CA (1961); Padres in San Diego, CA (1969); the Royals of Kansas City, MO (1969); Mariners of Seattle, WA (1977); the Texas Rangers in Arlington, TX (1961); the Marlins in Miami, FL (1993); Colorado Rockies in Denver, CO (1993); and the Arizona Diamondbacks of Phoenix, AZ (1998).
  • Between 1958 and 1970, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, and Sandy Koufax were the highest-paid baseball players Link to a non-federal Web site in the United States. During those 13 seasons, the top ballplayer's salary rose from $65,000 to $135,000. More recently, the U.S. Census Bureau's Statistical Abstract of the United States found that the average professional baseball player's salary was $598,000 in 1990; $1,896,000 in 2000; and $2,926,000 in 2008. In 2019, Major Leage Baseball reported that the 10 highest-paid players Link to a non-federal Web site earned between $28,000,000 and $38,300,000 annually.
  • In 2000 and 2010, the U.S. Census Bureau partnered with Major League Baseball and the National Baseball Players Association to produce public service announcements promoting the census. For the 2000 Census, Texas Rangers catcher Ivan Rodriguez, San Francisco Giants outfielder Barry Bonds, and New York Yankees shortstop Derek Jeter made videos promoting census participation and educating the public about the confidentiality of census data. In 2010, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Yovani Gallado, Cincinnati Reds outfielder Jay Bruce, Arizona Diamondbacks outfielder Justin Upton, San Francisco Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, and multi-position Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim player Howie Kendrick were just a few professional athletes who participated in public service announcements that encouraged fans to participate in the census.
  • Interested in using census data and records to learn more about sports and famous sports figures? Visit our "Famous and Infamous" Web page of historic census records from the National Archives or our archived Web pages dedicated to Babe Ruth, track and field Olympian Jesse Owens, American football's Super Bowl Championship, and New York Yankee's "Iron Man" Lou Gehrig.

1951 Willie Mays Baseball Card

On September 22, 1969, San Francisco Giants baseball player Willie Mays hit his 600th major league home run. Between 1951 and 1973, Mays recorded
3,283 hits, 660 home runs, and 1,903 runs batted in.

The Baseball Writers' Association of America Link to a non-federal Web site elected Mays to the Baseball Hall of Fame Link to a non-federal Web site in 1979.

Photo courtesy of the U.S. Army.

Baseball Clubs

Between 2007 and 2012, the economic census reported that the number of professional and semi-professional baseball clubs grew from 272 to 283.

California led the nation with the most baseball clubs (29) in 2012, followed by Florida (22), and New York (20).

That same year, these clubs employed 23,164 and reported revenue of nearly $7.3 billion.

Author Bernard Malamud
View larger image

Did You Know?

The Natural—one of the greatest baseball books ever published—was written by U.S. Census Bureau Agriculture Division clerk and author Bernard Malamud.

Malamud worked at the Census Bureau during the 1940s and spent lunch breaks writing short stories. His 1952 debut novel, The Natural, is a fictional account of the career highs and lows of baseball star Roy Hobbs. In 1984, the novel's film adaptation starred Robert Redford, Glenn Close, and Robert Duvall and garnered four Academy Award nominations.

After The Natural, Malamud earned two National Book Awards (in 1959 and 1967) and the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1967. He died in the Manhattan borough of New York City, NY, in 1986.

Satchel Paige
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Negro Leagues

Willie Mays began his baseball career with the Negro Southern League's Chattanooga Choo-Choos of Chattanooga, TN, in 1947. He joined the Negro American League's Birmingham, AL, Black Barons in 1948.

Prior to Major League Baseball's integration in 1947, many ballplayers began their careers in the Negro Leagues, including Brooklyn Dodgers second baseman Jackie Robinson, catcher Roy Campanella, and pitcher Don Newcombe; Chicago Cubs all-star Ernie Banks; Cleveland Indians pitcher Satchel Paige (above); and Milwaukee and Atlanta Braves outfielder Hank Aaron.

Learn more about the Negro Leagues at the Negro League Baseball Museum Link to a non-federal Web site in Kansas City, MO.

Visit https://www.census.gov/history every month for the latest Census History Home Page!

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Source: U.S. Census Bureau | Census History Staff | Last Revised: December 17, 2019