Willie Lee McCovey: Gone But Not Forgotten
By Len "Muddy" Mardeusz
Willie McCovey died on October 31, 2018 at the age of 80 years old. His close friend and fellow Hall-of-Famer marked his passing at 4:04 pm Pacific Time. Who was Willie McCovey?
Willie was one of the very best African-American professional baseball players. He had two nick names "Big Mac” and “Stretch” tied to his field position, first base. Willie played 19 seasons with the San Francisco Giants. He played a season each at Oakland and San Diego.
Willie McCovey was born in Mobile, Alabama. He was the seventh of 10 children born to Frank and Esther. Willie dropped out of high school to help the family with money issues and worked full time. The one thing he learned in school was how to play baseball. He had a natural talent for the game. Willie spent a few years in the minors with the Giants Pacific Coast team, the Phoenix Giants. He made is debut in the Major League debut with the San Fracisco Giants on July 30, 1959. He faced future Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts of the Phillies. McCovey slammed two singles and yep
triples. He was named NL Rookie of the Year. In August of ‘59 he hit .373, hit 8 home runs and Batted RBI’s. Three years later he helped the Giants into the 1962 World Series. In the 7th game, with two runners on and two outs trailing 1 to 0, McCovey step up to the plate. A base hit would score the two fleet footed runners to win the game.
The Giants fans yelled and scream “Big Mac” loudly over and over again. They were on the seats waving caps. Willie swung at a fast ball and sent a screaming low line drive toward left center field. A seemingly perfect hit but Yankees second basemen Bobby Richardson made a fantastic diving catch of the ball and the third out. Ending the series with a Yankee’s win. The crowd grew silent. The Yankee team flooded the field in joy. As Willie McCovey walked slowly head down to the dug out the fans nearby stood and applauded him. It would be Willie’s only World Series appearance,
But his fulfilling career was far from over. McCovey spent many years as part of the Giants hard hitting batting order. That included time with fellow Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays. Willie McCovey became a journey man ball player. He looked,listened and learned. His best year was in 1969, when he hit 45 home runs and drove in 126 RBI’s. In ‘69 he batted .320 to become the National League “Most Valuable Player”. In the early years of Candlestick Park, the Giants home stadium, the area behind right field was open except for small bleacher sections. When Willie McCovey came to bat, the bleachers would empty as the fans sought positions in hopes of catching a McCovey home run, which happened many, many times.
On October 23, 1973, after 14 years, the Giants traded McCovey to the San Diego Padres. The Giants management were trading high priced players and gave McCovey input as where he would prefer to play. Willie McCovey lived in and loved California. During the ‘74 season with the Padres, he played in 128 games and hit 22 home runs and in the ‘75 season hit 23 dingers in 122 games. The 1976 season brought McCovey injuries, which at 38 years old were difficult to over come, he batted near .203. Willie only played in 71 game and only hit 7 homeruns. The Oakland A’s bought
his contract. McCovey played 11 games for them.
In 1977, Willie McCovey returned to the Giants. McCovey began the ‘77 season as the active homerun leader with 465. On June 30, in Atlanta, Willie McCovey hit his 500th homerun. He was named Come Back Player at the age of 40. Willie McCovey the classic journey man baseball player had an illustrious career. McCovey played in four different decades, the ‘50’s, ‘60’s, ‘70’s and ‘80’s. In his 22 year career, Willie McCovey batted .270, hit 521 homeruns, 1,555 RBI’s, 2,211 huts, 1,229 runs scored, a .374 on base percentage. Willie hit 18 Grand Slam home runs and was a six-time All-Star. In 1986 Willie McCovey was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. San Francisco Giants retired his number “44”, in 1980. A statue of Willie McCovey was erected across the McCovey Cove near the park. Willie McCovey was married twice and had a daughter from the first marriage.
Willie Lee McCovey had and left a tremendous baseball legacy that is too often forgotten.