Willie Mays is one of baseball's all-time greats. A player who did it all (and did it with style), the "Say Hey Kid" was a fan favorite from the first time he stepped into the big leagues in 1951 until he retired in 1973.

LIFE.com recently published a series of never-before-seen photos of the 24-time All-Star and World Series champion. The images capture a side of Willie that, we imagine, many have never before been privy to.

There is a shot of him signing autographs for young fans, another of him eating a meal in Harlem with his landlady, and a terrific shot of Mays starting a pillow fight with teammate Monte Irvin. According to LIFE, Irvin, who was several years older than Mays, remarked in 1954: "I've got a couple of kids, 6 and 10, but when I take a road trip I've got another one on my hands. Willie is 23 years old and he'll drink maybe seven big sodas and a dozen Cokes in 12 hours."

And there are more. Many a great athlete can look graceful on the field of play, but only a select few can manage to look like superstars while drinking a glass of milk, shopping for shoes, or dealing with frenzied fans. Willie Howard Mays Jr. did it all.

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LIFE.com has additional photos. Click here to see the full collection.




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