Wil Myers, Willie Mays, and Will Clark
By Peter M. Gordon
Oct 7, 2013; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Tampa Bay Rays right fielderWil Myers
(9) works out prior to game three of the American League divisional series against the Boston Red Sox at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Wil Myers had an impressive rookie campaign. The Rays brought him up in mid-June, and in only 88 games he led AL rookies with 53 RBI. Myers also scored 50 runs, hit 13 homers, batted .293 with a .354 on base percentage, and stole five bases.
What does that season indicate for Myers’ future? It may be instructive to compare Myer’s rookie season with that of two other famous Will’s – Willie Mays and Will Clark.
Like Myers, Mays started his rookie season of 1951 in the minors. The Giants called Mays up in May which gave Willie more at bats. Mays played in 121 games and batted 464 times. He hit .274 with a .356 on base percentage, a lower batting average but a slightly higher on base average than Myers. He hit 20 home runs, scored 59 runs and drove in 68. Myers might well have surpassed those totals if he played an additional 40 games. Mays, despite blazing speed, stole only 7 bases that season, two more than Myers.
The Giants, you may recall, were 13 games back of the Dodgers in August, 1951, when they launched one of the most famous hot streaks in baseball history, forcing a three game playoff that culminated in Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard round the world” and a Giant pennant. During that crucial three game playoff series, Mays got just one hit, and scored no runs –a performance similar to Wil Myers’ during this year’s ALDS.
Mays, of course, would go on to have one of the greatest careers in baseball history and many observers consider him the greatest player of all time. Mays was also one of greatest fielding center fielders of all time – some of his catches and throws, like his catch of Vic Wertz’s fly during the 1954 World Series, remain legendary. Even Wil Myer’s biggest fans would admit that Myers is not close to Mays in the field. Still if a player can compare any of his seasons with a young Willie Mays and not look completely outclassed, that player had a pretty good season.
The Korean War kept Mays from playing a full season until 1954, when he was 23, the age Myers will be next year. Mays came back from his service to hit .345 with 41 homers, 110 RBIs, 119 runs scored and a .411 on base percentage. He won the MVP and led the Giants to a World Series victory. It would be quite a leap for Myers to have a season like that at 23, but if Myers could even approach those numbers he’d have one of the greatest seasons by any Rays hitter.
Perhaps it’s not fair to compare Myers to Willie Mays, one of the greatest of all time. Another Giant, Will Clark, was a rookie first baseman at 22, the same age as Myers. The San Francisco Giants brought Will up in 1986. Clark played in 111 games and batted 408 times. He hit .287 with a .343 on base percentage, both less than Myers. Clark scored a few more runs, 66, but had fewer homers and RBI, 11 and 41, respectively. He stole 4 bases, and was caught 7 times. Clark finished fifth in Rookie of the Year voting.
In 1987 Clark turned 23, played 150 games, and hit .308 with a .371 on base percentage. He scored 89 runs, slugged 35 homers, and drove in 91. In 1988 at age 24 Clark played every game, scored 102 runs, hit .282 with 29 homers, and led the National League with 109 RBI. He walked 100 times, to give him an on base percentage of .386. Clark led the Giants to a division championship, and hit .360 in the NLCS. The Giants lost to the Cardinals, but won the pennant in 1989, with Clark again playing a key role.
We should expect a rookie who hit like Wil Myers in 2013 to significantly improve his performance in 2014. Of course, improvement depends on Myers continuing to work on all aspects of his game–his hitting, fielding, and mental preparation. Can he recover his confidence after his poor performance in the ALDS? If he can, and if he avoids severe injury, Myers could develop into one of the best hitters in the league, and with Evan Longoria provide the Rays an impressive 1-2 punch. Despite his status as a “Wil” and not a “Willie” or a “Will,” Myers has a chance to emulate some of the greatest players baseball has seen, and we will have to see how far the comparisions will go.