Year
1966
Month Day
May 04

Willie Mays breaks National League home run record

On May 4, 1966, San Francisco Giants outfielder Willie Mays hits his 512th career home run to break Mel Ott’s National League record for home runs. Mays would finish his career with 660 home runs, good for third on the all-time list at the time of his retirement.

Willie Howard Mays was born May 6, 1931, in Westfield, Alabama. The “Say Hey Kid” learned baseball from his father, who played semi-professionally with a team from his steel mill. Willie joined the steel mill team at age 14, and then began his professional career at 16 with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Southern League. He played home games for the Barons from 1948 to 1950, skipping road trips during the school year so he could attend high school. Upon graduation he was signed by the New York Giants, and made his debut at the Polo Grounds on May 25, 1951. Mays went hitless in his first 12 at-bats, hitting his first big league homer in his 13th. That season, he was named Rookie of the Year and helped the Giants to the National League pennant.

In 1952, Mays was drafted into the Army. The Mays-less Giants barely missed the pennant in 1952, then felt his absence more acutely in 1953, when they finished the season with a 70-84 record. Upon his return in 1954, the Giants defeated the Cleveland Indians to win the World Series, during which Mays made what many fans consider to be the greatest catch in history. In Game 1, Indian first baseman Vic Wertz hit a fly ball to deep center field. Mays turned and ran, then caught the ball over his shoulder with his back to the infield, spinning and firing the ball back into the infield to keep the runners from advancing. When he was later asked about the play, Mays famously replied, “I don’t rank ‘em, I just catch ‘em.”

After more than 20 years with the Giants, first in New York and then in San Francisco (the team relocated), Mays was acquired by the New York Mets on May 11, 1972. He spent the next two seasons as a Met under former Yankee catcher Yogi Berra as manager. The team won the National League pennant in 1973, though by then, Mays’ skills had eroded, and he could not catch up to the fastballs he once deposited into bleachers on both coasts.

In addition to winning the National League MVP in 1954 and 1965, Mays played in 24 All-Star games, winning the All-Star MVP in 1963 and 1968. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979. His base running, power, fielding, ability to hit for average and outstanding arm in the outfield made him the prototype “five-tool” player for whom baseball scouts search. Any argument over who deserves the title “greatest baseball player in history” has to include Willie Mays.

FACT CHECK: We strive for accuracy and fairness. But if you see something that doesn't look right, click here to contact us! HISTORY reviews and updates its content regularly to ensure it is complete and accurate.

ALSO ON THIS DAY

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 debuts

On May 4, 1824, Ludwig van Beethoven’s ninth and final symphony debuts at Vienna’s Theater am Kärntnertor. Having lost his hearing years earlier, the celebrated composer nonetheless “conducts” the first performance of his Ninth Symphony, now widely considered to be one of the ...read more

Margaret Thatcher sworn in as Britain’s first female Prime Minister

Margaret Thatcher, leader of the Conservative Party, is sworn in as Britain’s first female prime minister. The Oxford-educated chemist and lawyer was sworn in the day after the Conservatives won a 44-seat majority in general parliamentary elections. Margaret Hilda Roberts was ...read more

Gene Vincent records “Be-Bop-A-Lula”

When a music critic wants to indicate that a song lacks lyrical sophistication, he or she will often refer to its lyrics as being of the “moon in June” sort. It’s a label left over from the Tin Pan Alley era, when even great composers like Irving Berlin churned out a hundred ...read more

The Haymarket Square Riot

At Haymarket Square in Chicago, Illinois, a bomb is thrown at a squad of policemen attempting to break up a labor rally. The police responded with wild gunfire, killing several people in the crowd and injuring dozens more. The demonstration, which drew some 1,500 Chicago workers, ...read more

Kent State Shooting: Timeline

National Guard kills four students in Kent State shootings

On May 4, 1970, in Kent, Ohio, 28 National Guardsmen fire their weapons at a group of anti-war demonstrators on the Kent State University campus, killing four students, wounding eight, and permanently paralyzing another. The tragedy was a watershed moment for a nation divided by ...read more

Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat sign accord for Palestinian self-rule

On May 4, 1994, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat reached agreement in Cairo on the first stage of Palestinian self-rule. The agreement was made in accordance with the Oslo Accords, signed in Washington, D.C.on September 13, 1993. This was the ...read more

President Lincoln is buried in Springfield, Illinois

On May 4, 1865, Abraham Lincoln is laid to rest in his hometown of Springfield, Illinois. His funeral train had traveled through 180 cities and seven states before reaching Springfield. At each stop, mourners paid their respects to Lincoln, who had been assassinated on April 14. ...read more

Norman Mailer's first novel, “The Naked and the Dead,” is published

Twenty-five-year-old Norman Mailer’s first novel, The Naked and the Dead, is published on May 4, 1948. The book is critically acclaimed and widely considered one of the best novels to come out of World War II. Mailer was born in New Jersey in 1923 and raised in Brooklyn. He ...read more

Legendary actress Audrey Hepburn is born

On May 4, 1929, Edda van Heemstra Hepburn-Ruston—who will one day be better known to legions of film fans as Audrey Hepburn—is born near Brussels, Belgium. The daughter of an English banker and a Dutch baroness, Hepburn was attending school in London when World War II erupted in ...read more

Nigerian aircraft crashes in crowded city

On May 4, 2002, an EAS Airline plane crashes into the town of Kano, Nigeria, killing 149 people. The Nigerian BAC 1-11-500 aircraft exploded in a densely populated section of the northern Nigerian city. The Executive Airline Services twin-engine plane took off from Kano at ...read more

Electric chair malfunctions in Florida, leading states to change execution methods

Jesse Tafero is executed in Florida after his electric chair malfunctions three times, causing flames to leap from his head. Tafero’s death sparked a new debate on humane methods of execution. Several states ceased use of the electric chair and adopted lethal injection as their ...read more

Rhode Island becomes first colony to declare independence from England

On May 4, 1776, Rhode Island, the colony founded by the most radical religious dissenters from the Puritans of Massachusetts Bay Colony, becomes the first North American colony to renounce its allegiance to King George III. Ironically, Rhode Island would be the last state to ...read more

Germany agrees to limit its submarine warfare

On May 4, 1916, Germany responds to a demand by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson by agreeing to limit its submarine warfare in order to avert a diplomatic break with the United States. Unrestricted submarine warfare was first introduced in World War I in early 1915, when Germany ...read more

As the Nazi threat dies, the Red Army rises

On this day in 1945, Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov informs U.S. Secretary of State Stettinius that the Red Army has arrested 16 Polish peace negotiators who had met with a Soviet army colonel near Warsaw back in March. When British Prime Minister Winston Churchill learns of the ...read more