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Hall of Fame Family Heirlooms

The “Say Hey Kid”

Willie Mays

*This story is dedicated to the memory of my Aunt Viv & her son, Jack Lilley. He was my 2nd cousin. He collected baseball cards. He died in a car accident six years before I was born. I’ve been honored to carry on his family love of baseball legacy through his baseball cards.

I never met him in person.


There Once Was A Time

When Every Town Had A Team

Every Team Had A Star

Every Boy Had a Dream


Author’s Note: This is the 4th in my planned series of six baseball card stories. The 1st three featured baseball cards of Mickey Mantle, Joe Dimaggio, and “Cure Cottage Immortals” Christy Mathewson & Larry Doyle, who both died in my Saranac Lake, NY hometown while battling tuberculosis.

I’m the kid whose mom never threw his baseball cards away. I’ve been collecting them since I was a boy, for nearly fifty years now. These cards are my treasures.

Each story focuses on cards from my personal collection, and the story behind them; either my connection to the player depicted in each card, or how I acquired them. Sometimes, it’s both.

I thought for my fourth story I’d turn my attention to one of my true family heirloom baseball cards:

 TOPPS 1956 Willie Mays


     Willie Mays; a.k.a. “The Say Hey Kid”, considered by many to be the greatest centerfielder of all time.

     I don’t recall where I heard the story about where Willie Mays got his nickname. From where I gained most of my baseball knowledge, I suspect, the back of a baseball card! Where else?!

     According to my memory, Wille Mays apparently had trouble remembering people’s names. So, he greeted everyone with a friendly “Say Hey!”

     Willie Mays played for twenty-two illustrious Major League seasons (1951-1973). He played the first twenty for the Giants, who moved from New York To San Francisco after the 1957 season. He returned to New York for his final two seasons, playing for the Mets. He retired at the end of the Mets NL Pennant winning “73 season.  


Signed 8×10 color photo of Willie Mays from my personal collection

     Willie was a veteran. He lost two of the prime years of his career serving in the Army between 1952 and 1954 during the Korean War. Of course, like many Major League baseball stars of that era, he spent most of that stateside, playing exhibition baseball.

     Willie’s career is filled with so many highlights it’s nearly impossible to list all of them. He was Rookie of the Year in 1951. He was twenty-four times an All-Star, twice National League MVP (’54 & ’55). He was the 1st NL member of the highly esteemed “30-30” club (30 home runs & 30 stolen bases in the same season).

     Willie Mays played on four World Series teams, three with the Giants (‘51/’54/’62) and one with the Mets (’73). His 1954 over the shoulder World Series catch is one of the most famous in baseball history.

     I remember that 1973 World Series. I was in the 5th grade. I’m a huge NY Mets fan, have been since I was young.  That year my younger brother won a complete set of NY Mets player signed black and white autograph photos, including Willie Mays, in a Cub Scouts contest. Another Hall of Fame Family heirloom. I now have them.

Signed Black & White team photos of the ’73 NY Mets.

      I remember watching the Mets play the Oakland A’s that fall while I stayed overnight at my best friend’s house. His name was Bruce. He had his own color TV and pool table in his bedroom. At home, we had just one black and white Zenith TV in our living room. We had nothing resembling a pool table anywhere in my house.

     I don’t remember seeing Willie Mays play in that World Series.  He did not play much. The Mets lost that World Series. The “Say Hey Kid” retired soon afterwards.   

     Mays won one NL batting title (.345 in 1954), and 4 National League home run titles.  He finished his career with a .302 batting average, 660 Home Runs, and 1903 Runs Batted In. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1979.

     Willie Mays was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2015.


My Uncle Pete & Aunt Viv, as I will forever remember them

     My Uncle Pete and Aunt Viv lived in a comfortable two-story family home just across the New York/Pennsylvania state line, in the little town of Rixford, Pennsylvania. Aunt Viv was my grandmother’s sister. Their father, my great grandfather, lived next door to Aunt Viv. Despite his small stature and slight build, everyone there called him “Big Ray”.  He worked for the railroad. His last name was Warren.

I don’t have a lot of memories of “Grandpa Ray” (which was what my brother and I called him.) I understand from my parents that he was a big baseball fan. He and Jack both were. They collected baseball cards together. I’m not sure which team they rooted for.

My Grandpa Ray with my younger brother Raymond and I, circa 1967. My brother was named after his great grandfather.

     Uncle Pete and Aunt Viv (my Great uncle & aunt, actually), had four kids, two boys, Don & Jack, and two girls, Jan and Sherrie, my dad’s cousins. Jack died before I was born, so I never met him. I saw the others when, as young boys, my brother Raymond & I visited Aunt Viv’s house and played with their kids. My Dad was close to all of them. I’ve always thought of Don as my “Uncle Don”, even though he’s really my 2nd cousin.      

     Memories are funny; the images our minds retain. I can see my Uncle Pete and my grandfather sitting at the kitchen table, smoking and chatting while they sipped beer. They would pour out a glass of beer, and then sprinkle salt in it. My Grandfather hand rolled his own Prince Albert cigarettes. I can see him carefully sprinkling brown tobacco out onto a ZIGZAG rolling paper, then rolling his cigarette and licking the paper to seal it.  I can still inhale the smell of lighter fluid, cigarette smoke and hear the sound of his Zippo lighter igniting as he lit up.

     Aunt Viv’s house was across the street from a school. There were working oil pumps everywhere. There was one in the school playground, another one in Aunt Viv’s side yard. The smell of oil filled the air. I guess they got royalties from that pump for most of their lives.

     My family visited Aunt Viv’s house often. She had a Kimball electric player organ in her living room. Sometimes she let us kids play it. My Uncle Pete played the banjo. My Grandfather played the guitar. They both sang.  From what I understand, in an earlier time, they used to have their own band and may have hosted local dances in Aunt Viv’s dining room. I have that organ now too, it still plays. Another family heirloom.

     Aunt Viv had a big cooler just off her kitchen. When my brother, our cousins, and I would get hot playing outside, sometimes we’d get treated to bottled soft drinks from that cooler. Everyone in that neck of the woods called bottled soft drinks “Pop”. Another memory I’ve stored. My brother and I always called it “soda”.

     We played a lot of cards at Aunt Viv’s house. Every kid in the family learned to play Canasta and Euchre. I believe it was mandatory. We were a competitive lot. Canasta games and Euchre tournaments often got quite heated.

     I started collecting baseball cards in 1974. By the time I was twelve or thirteen, they had become my obsession.

     At some point in that time period, my father mentioned to me that my Grandpa Ray and cousin Jack had been big baseball fans and collected baseball cards too. He was pretty sure that after Jack died in the car accident, my Aunt Viv kept his cards.  So, with my dad’s permission, I wrote her a letter one day, telling her about my baseball card collection, mentioning my dad’s memories of Jack’s cards, and asking her if the next time we visited if I might be allowed to see them if she still had them.

     My Aunt Viv never responded to that letter, or brought it up on any of our subsequent family visits to her house. Dad advised me not to raise the subject again. So, I didn’t. It remained a legend quietly living in the back of my mind: “Aunt Viv’s baseball cards”.

     Life went on. I grew up, went away to college, served my time in the army, met my wife, got married, bought a house and had kids.  By the time I was thirty-three my wife and I had three kids, a mortgage, a house, and two full time jobs. I played for and managed a semi pro baseball team. I still collected baseball cards. Uncle Pete and my grandparents had all passed away, but we still occasionally visited Aunt Viv.

      One day my wife and I were visiting Aunt Viv at her house. We were sitting at her kitchen table playing Canasta when Aunt Viv quietly looked at me and remarked; “Dick, I think you’re old enough now.”  I was thirty-three years old! “Old enough now” for what?

     Aunt Viv got up from the table and went to her hall closet. She returned a few moments later and placed a green samsonite suitcase in front of me on the table. “You asked me about these once upon a time. Go ahead, open it.”

     I opened the suitcase and stared in disbelief. “These were my son Jack’s cards. I’ve kept them in this suitcase in memory of him, just as he left them.”  

     The cards were in neat stacks organized by team, each stack in a rubber band. I carefully took out one stack after another, and removed the rubber band. The cards ranged from 1952-1957, TOPPS and BOWMAN brands. I couldn’t believe my eyes. They were beautiful.

     I sat there that day looking through them for several hours. I told Aunt Viv she should get them out of the rubber bands and into protective card holders, and that as soon as I got back home, I would send her some.

     Aunt Viv didn’t say much. I could tell it was hard for her. As I showed her some of the most important and valuable cards, I tried to point out to her some considerations on condition. There were duplicates of a number of cards. I used them as comparisons. As the discussion went on, Aunt Viv said at certain points: “Do you like that card? If there are two you may choose one of them.”

     In the end, I selected four cards from that suitcase, a 1952 Bowman Bob Feller, a 1953 Bowman Black & White (in ’53 Bowman issued both black & white & colored sets) Preacher Roe, a 1954 TOPPS Al Kaline card, and a 1956 TOPPS Wille Mays.  A special gift from my Great Aunt Viv in memory of her son Jack. They have remained the most treasured part of my collection.

From left to right: 1956 TOPPS Willie Mays, 1952 Bowman Bob Feller, 1954 TOPPS Al Kaline, 1953 Bowman Black & White Preacher Roe

     I thanked Aunt Viv and told her that if she ever had any questions or needed any help in determining what to do with the rest of the cards, to feel free to call me. She said she was holding onto them in case there was a family emergency of some kind, and she needed to sell them to raise a large sum of cash.

     When I got home, I was true to my word, I mailed her a big bunch of eight and nine pocket card holders. That was the last I heard of the cards. We continued visiting Aunt Viv, playing cards in her kitchen, but she never brought them up again, nor did I.

     Then one day, a few years later, my mom called me; “Aunt Viv called. She wants you to come and see her. She did not say why.”

     So, my wife and I went to visit Aunt Viv. She was still living in her house, alone. By then she was on oxygen. We played cards at her kitchen table and visited. At some point while I was there, her son Don called and asked me how she was doing. He cautioned me that his mom’s health had become fragile.  He never mentioned the baseball cards, nor did I.

     We stayed the night, got up, had breakfast, and prepared to say our goodbyes. As we headed for the door Aunt Viv took my hand and said “I’m sorry Dick, I just couldn’t.”  I gave her a gentle hug and said; “That’s okay Aunt Viv. I understand. The four cards you gave to me will always be treasured.”

     That was the last time I saw Aunt Viv. She passed away not long thereafter.  They held an estate auction after her funeral. I was not able to attend, nor were any immediate family members. My dad’s sister went in our stead. I told her I was interested in Aunt Viv’s organ, and to keep an eye out for a green samsonite suitcase if it ever appeared.

     My aunt won the organ for me in the auction, as well as several other mementos for other family members. She never saw any sign of a green samsonite suitcase or baseball cards in the auction. I resigned myself to the fact that Aunt Viv’s cards were gone for good.

     Nearly twenty years went by. My parents spent their winters in Florida. Both of our daughters were in college, playing softball. Aunt Viv’s daughter Sherrie lived in Florida as well. She saw my parents quite often. With a bit of help from my parents, I shared my story with Sherrie and gently inquired as to what had ever happened to Jack’s baseball cards. As it turned out, she had some of them.

     Ove the course of the next year or two, Sherrie and I corresponded and met several times. She showed me the cards she had, several albums full, more cards than I had seen in the suitcase at Aunt Viv’s.

     I spent several days carefully examining the cards Sherrie showed to me, consulting my baseball card catalogs, giving her my best effort at a professional appraisal.

When all was said and done, Sherrie did much as my Aunt Viv had done, and gave me ten more cards from her brother’s collection, of which she had duplicates, including a 1954 Bowman Mickey Mantle, 1953 TOPPS Satchel Paige, and a 1956 TOPPS Yogi Berra.

     So now I have fourteen cards from my cousin Jack’s collection. I keep them separate from the rest of my cards, up high on one wall in my den, in a special glass case.  They will always be my most treasured baseball cards.

Hall of Fame Family Heirlooms.


Until Our Trails Cross Again:

Follow Your Passion, Collect What You Love