September 13, 1965: Willie Mays of the San Francisco Giants hits his 500th career home run in a 5-1 win over Houston. It was an MVP season for Mays, who would go on to belt a career-high 52 homers. The one he hit the following night epitomized his amazing year. The Giants trailed the Astros with two outs in the ninth, and Mays swung and missed on the first two pitches from Houston reliever Claude Raymond. Then Mays took the next three pitches to force a full count—and followed with three fouls. He finally clubbed a game-tying two-run homer, and San Francisco won 6-5 in the 10th.
That was one was important, because San Francisco was in its usual pennant race with the L.A. Dodgers (the Giants would ultimately finish second). Three weeks earlier, Mays was in the middle of a brawl with the Giants’ hated rivals, acting as a peacemaker after San Francisco pitcher Juan Marichal had bloodied Dodgers catcher Johnny Roseboro with a bat. Mays grabbed Roseboro and helped him off the field, then corralled the Dodgers’ Lou Johnson as he went after an umpire. Johnson kicked Mays in the head and nearly knocked him out. After the brawl, Mays hit a game-winning three-run home run off Sandy Koufax but had to leave the game afterward because of dizziness.
At 34 years old, the “Say Hey Kid” was at the peak of his big league career. Mays’ MVP award was the second of his career; the only other one he captured was in New York in 1954. Experts suggest Mays should have been named MVP as many as seven times. He would end up with 660 career home runs—now sixth in major league history behind godson Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Albert Pujols and Alex Rodriguez. You wonder what might have been for Mays, as he missed most of the 1952 season and all of 1953 to serve in the Army.
The Pujols drama is going to go to the wire. On Sunday, the St. Louis Cardinals star passed Rodriguez on the all-time list with his 697th career homer. Now, can Pujols become the fourth player to hit 700? The Cards, who were off Monday night, have 21 games left in the regular season. By the way, on this day in 1971, Frank Robinson hit his 500th career homer in a 10-5 loss to the Detroit Tigers. Robinson, who would go on to become MLB’s first Black manager, finished his career with 586 home runs.
(Tom Scott hosts the Scott Slant segment during the football season on KTVB’s Sunday Sports Extra. He also anchors four sports segments each weekday on 95.3 FM KTIK and one on News/Talk KBOI. His Scott Slant column runs every Wednesday.)