Remembering Hall of Famer- Willie McCovey

Willie Lee McCovey was born January 10th 1938 in Mobile Alabama, about 250 miles from Willie Mays' hometown. He was signed by the New York Giants in 1955 just one year after that teams 1954 Championship season. The tall slim six foot four inch left hand hitter became known as "Stretch" as well as "Mac" and was one of the best hitters of the 1960's into the 1970's.

McCovey made his MLB debut, with the Giants now in San Francisco, on July 30th 1959 in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies. That day he faced Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, going 4-4 with a pair of triples & a  two singles. 

That August he won the Player of the Month Award, with a 22 game hit streak going into September, when he hit four HRs in five games. In just 52 games he hit .354 with 13 HRs 9 doubles 5 Triples & 38 RBIs with a .429 on base %. Those numbers earned him the Rookie of the Year Award.

McCovey would play for the Giants for the next 15 years, mostly at first base, but also in the outfield when the Giants had another Hall of Famer; Orlando Cepeda play at first base. Going up into the 1972 season, McCovey had been in the same line up as Hall of Famer Willie Mays. From 1968 to 1974 Bobby Bonds was also in the Giants line up. 

McCovey would be  known as one the most feared hitters in the National League during his career. He would actually scare pitchers with his quick bat & ferocious line drives. 

He would improve in his early years, getting better each season. In 1962 the Giants won the pennant, although McCovey missed over seventy games with injury, he contributed with 20 HRs & 54 RBIs while batting .293 in just 91 games. 

World Series: That year he played in his only World Series, batting just .200 hitting a HR in Game #1 as the Giants won 2-0. In Game #7, Willie Mays was on second & Matty Alou on third in the bottom of the 9th inning, with the Giants down 1-0. McCovey lined a bullet, but it was snagged by Bobby Richardson for the third out, ending the series.

Trivia: Two months after the World Series, cartoonist Charles Schulz drew a Peanuts carton where Charlie Brown asks "Why couldn't McCovey just hit the ball three feet higher". He did another where Charlie Brown wonders the same question.

The next year a healthy McCovey would lead the NL in HRs (44) driving in 102 runs with career highs in runs scored (103) & hits (158). After another injury ridden season he would hit 30 plus HRs & drive in 90 plus runs for the next three seasons.

Trivia: When Roger Craig was pitching for the New York Mets, he recalled Casey Stengel once coming to the mound when McCovey was up asking "where do you want to pitch him, upper deck or lower deck".

In 1969 as the Amazing Mets were shocking the base ball world, their ace, Tom Seaver, was the games best pitcher. Seaver had grown up in Fresno California, a huge fan of McCovey, who was that years beat hitter. McCovey had his finest year, winning the NL MVP Award, leading the league in HRs (45) & RBIs (126) both career highs. 

He also led the NL in slugging for the second time in a string of three straight seasons (.453%) while batting .320 (5th in the NL). He walked 121 times & led the NL with 45 intentional walks. He would led the league in that category for three straight years, four times overall.

Quotes- Willie McCovey:“Certainly I’m happy and proud to win the MVP, but I’d gladly give it away to play in another World Series.”

In 1971 the Giants won the NL West, the only time in the seventies the West was won by a team other than the Dodgers or Reds. McCovey missed over 50 games but still drove in 70 runs with 18 HRs.  In the NLCS loss to the Pittsburgh Pirates, he hit a HR in Game #1 leading the Giants to a 5-4 win. In the final Game #4 he had three hits with a HR & four RBIs, accounting for four of the Giants five runs.

By 1974 the Giants traded McCovey to the San Diego Padres for pitcher Mike Caldwell. There was speculation the Padres were being sold & going to Washington D.C that season. 1974 Topps base ball cards were put out early with a limited number of cards released with Padres players listed on the team Washington -National League. McCovey's card with that team has good value.

He played two brief seasons in San Diego, then a quick 11 games with the A's across the San Francisco Bay. By 1977 at 39 years old, the Giants brought their hero back to Candlestick Park. That year at age 39, he had his best year since leaving the Giants four years earlier, he hit 28 HRs with 86 RBIs while batting .280. He also won the NL Comeback Player of the Year Award.

After 48 games in 1980 McCovey retired at the age of 42. In his last game at Candlestick Park he drove in a run to help the Giants beat the Reds. Then in an emotional final series at Dodger Stadium, the Giants longtime rivals, the crowd of over 50,000 gave him a standing ovation & a curtain call.

 In the first game, McCovey came up as a pinch hitter in the 9th inning of a tie game. He doubled bringing in what was toe be the winning run. A very emotional exciting personal moment. In his last at bat he it a sac fly helping the Giants to a 7-4 extra inning win.

 He ended a Hall of Fame career with 521 HRs (20th all time)18 Grand Slams (most in NL history) 1555 RBIs a .374 on base % a .270 batting average with 353 doubles & 46 triples in 2588 games (44th most all time) in 22 seasons. He played in six All Star Games & one World Series. He hit 231 HRs in Candlestick Park, the most by anyone in that Park, including Mays, a tough HR hitters park. He also hit the longest HR ever in that stadium in 1966.

At first base he played 2045 games (18th most all time).

Honors: McCovey was named to the Hall of Fame in 1986. In 1980 the Giants retired his  uniform #44. The now famous cove outside of AT & T Park is named McCovey Cove. The place was made famous as SF Giant Barry Bonds blasted many a record HR in that waterway during his career. A statue of McCovey was erected outside McCovey point across from the Cove. The Willie Mac Award has been awarded to Giants players since 1980.

In recent years McCovey had slowed up, after over a dozen knee surgeries he was wheel chair bound, but was often seen at Giants games & honored at many functions as well as post seasons games. 

Passing: He passed away at age 80 at Stanford University Medical Center, after being hospitalized with an infection. Fellow Hall of Famer & long time friend Joe Morgan was with him at the time of his death. Fans gathered at McCovey Cove in his honor after his passing.

McCovey will forever be remembered as one of the best of his era, a good guy & very popular player.


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