McCovey at the 2012 Giants World Series parade
|Born: (1938-01-10)January 10, 1938
|Died: October 31, 2018(2018-10-31) (aged 80)
|July 30, 1959, for the San Francisco Giants|
|Last MLB appearance|
|July 6, 1980, for the San Francisco Giants|
|Runs batted in||1,555|
|Career highlights and awards|
|Member of the National|
|Baseball Hall of Fame|
|Vote||81.4% (first ballot)|
Willie Lee McCovey (January 10, 1938 – October 31, 2018), nicknamed “Mac“, “Big Mac“, and “Stretch“, was an American professional baseball first baseman. He played for the San Francisco Giants of Major League Baseball for 19 seasons, and three more in MLB for the San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics, between 1959 and 1980. He batted and threw left-handed and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986.
One of the most intimidating power hitters of his era, McCovey was called “the scariest hitter in baseball” by pitcher Bob Gibson, an assessment with which Reggie Jackson concurred. McCovey’s powerful swing generated 521 home runs, 231 of which he hit in Candlestick Park, the most hit there by any player, and included a home run of September 16, 1966 described as the longest ever hit in that stadium.
McCovey was born in Mobile, Alabama. He was the seventh child of ten born to Frank and Esther McCovey. He began working parttime at the age of 12 and dropped out of high school without graduating in order to work fulltime.
Prior to playing for the San Francisco Giants, McCovey played for a Giants’ farm club in Dallas, Texas that was part of the Class AA Southern League. In that league, he did not participate when his team played in Shreveport, Louisiana due to segregation in that city. He later played for the Pacific Coast League Phoenix Giants just prior to joining the San Francisco Giants.
San Francisco Giants (1959–73)
In his Major League debut on July 30, 1959, McCovey went four-for-four against Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts of the Philadelphia Phillies, batting 4-for-4 with two singles and two triples. In 52 major league games, he had a .354 batting average and 13 home runs. He was named the National League‘s (NL) Rookie of the Year. He won the NL Player of the Month Award in August, his first full month in the majors (.373, 8 HR, 22 RBI). He had a 22-game hitting streak, setting the mark for San Francisco Giants rookies, four short of the all-time team record.
Three years later, he helped the Giants to the 1962 World Series against the New York Yankees. Perhaps McCovey’s best-known moment in baseball came in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7, with 2 outs and the Giants trailing 1–0. With Willie Mays on second base and Matty Alou on third, any base hit would likely have won the championship for the Giants. McCovey scorched a hard line drive that was snared by the Yankees’ second baseman Bobby Richardson, ending the series with a Yankees’ win. That would turn out to be the closest McCovey would get to playing on a World Series Championship team.
McCovey spent many years at the heart of the Giants’ batting order along with fellow Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays. His best year statistically was 1969 when he hit 45 home runs, had 126 RBI and batted .320 to become the National League MVP. He won NL Player of the Month awards in July 1963 (.310, 13 HR, 27 RBI) and August 1969 (.315, 8, 22 RBI). He and Hank Aaron tied for the NL lead with 44 home runs.
In the early years of Candlestick Park, the Giants home stadium, the area behind right field was open except for three small bleacher sections. When McCovey came to bat, typically those bleachers would empty as the fans positioned themselves on the flat ground hoping to catch a McCovey home run ball – anticipating the gathering of boats in McCovey Cove, a generation later, when Barry Bonds would bat.
San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics (1974–76)
On October 23, 1973, the Giants traded McCovey and Bernie Williams to the San Diego Padres for Mike Caldwell. The Giants had been trading their higher-priced players and gave McCovey input into his destination. McCovey played in 128 games in 1974 and 122 games in 1975. He hit 22 home runs in 1974 and 23 in 1975.
In 1976, McCovey struggled, and lost the starting first base job to Mike Ivie. He batted .203 with seven home runs in 71 games. Near the end of the season, the Oakland Athletics purchased his contract from the Padres. He played in eleven games for them.
Return to San Francisco (1977–80)
McCovey returned to the Giants in 1977 without a guaranteed contract, but he earned a position on the team. With Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson having retired at the end of the 1976 season with 755 and 586 home runs respectively, McCovey began 1977 as the active home run leader with 465. That year, during a June 27 game against the Cincinnati Reds, he became the first player to hit two home runs in one inning twice in his career (the first was on April 12, 1973), a feat since accomplished by only Andre Dawson and Jeff King. One was a grand slam and he became the first National Leaguer to hit seventeen. At age 39, he had 28 home runs and 86 RBIs and was named the Comeback Player of the Year.
On June 30, 1978, at Atlanta‘s Fulton County Stadium, McCovey hit his 500th home run, and two years later, on May 3, 1980, at Montreal‘s Olympic Stadium, McCovey hit his 521st and last home run, off Scott Sanderson of the Montreal Expos. This home run gave McCovey the distinction, along with Ted Williams (with whom he was tied in home runs), Rickey Henderson, and Omar Vizquel of homering in four different decades: the 1950s, 60s, 70s, and 80s. McCovey is one of only 29 players in baseball history to date to have appeared in Major League baseball games in four decades.
In his 22-year career, McCovey batted .270, with 521 home runs and 1,555 RBIs, 1,229 runs scored, 2,211 hits, 353 doubles, 46 triples, a .374 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage. He also hit 18 grand slam home runs in his career, a National League record.
|Willie McCovey’s number 44 was retired by the San Francisco Giants in 1980.|
McCovey was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986. It was his first year of eligibility and he appeared on 346 of 425 ballots cast (81.4 percent). In 1999, he ranked 56th on The Sporting News‘ list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Since 1980, the Giants have awarded the Willie Mac Award to honor his spirit and leadership. The inlet of San Francisco Bay beyond the right field fence of AT&T Park, historically known as China Basin, has been redubbed McCovey Cove in his honor. Across McCovey Cove from the park a statue of McCovey was erected and the land on which it stands named McCovey Point. The Giants retired his uniform number 44 on September 21, 1980, which he wore in honor of Hank Aaron, a fellow Mobile, Alabama native.
McCovey was inducted to the Afro Sports Hall of Fame, February 7, 2009 in Oakland, California. The Willie McCovey field at Woodside Elementary School was recently rededicated in 2013. He was the namesake for the “McCovey Chronicles”, the Giants’ sports news site on SB Nation.
McCovey was a senior advisor with the Giants for 18 years. In his role, he visited the team during spring training and during the season, providing advice and other services.
In September 2003, McCovey and a business partner opened McCovey’s Restaurant, a baseball-themed sports bar and restaurant, located in Walnut Creek, California. The restaurant closed in February 2015.
He was married to Karen McCovey and had a daughter. On August 1, 2018, McCovey married Estela Bejar at AT&T Park.
In 1996, McCovey and Duke Snider pled guilty to federal tax fraud charges. According to the charges, they had failed to report income from sports card shows and memorabilia sales from 1988 to 1990. He received a pardon from President Barack Obama on January 17, 2017.
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|162 Game Avg.|
|SFG (19 yrs)|
|SDP (3 yrs)|
|OAK (1 yr)|
|NL (22 yrs)|
|AL (1 yr)|
|162 Game Avg.||162||607||513||77||138||22||3||33||97||2||1||84||97||.270||.374||.515||.889||147||264||11||4||0||4||16|