S.F. Giants Hall of Famer McCovey dies at age 80


— Wil­lie McCovey, the sweet-swing­ing Hall of Famer nick­named “Stretch” for his 6-foot-4 height and those long arms, died Wed­nes­day. He was 80.

The San Fran­cisco Giants an­nounced McCovey’s death, say­ing the fear­some hit­ter passed “peace­fully” on Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon “af­ter los­ing his bat­tle with on­go­ing health is­sues.”

A first base­man and left fielder, McCovey was a .270 ca­reer hit­ter with 521 home runs and 1,555 RBIs in 22 ma­jor league sea­sons, 19 of them with the Giants. He also played for the Ath­let­ics and Padres.

McCovey made his ma­jor league de­but at 21 on July 30, 1959, and played along­side the other Wil­lie — Hall of Famer Wil­lie Mays — into the 1972 sea­son be­fore Mays was traded to the New York Mets.

McCovey bat­ted .354 with 13 homers and 38 RBIs on the way to win­ning the 1959 NL Rookie of the Year award. The six-time Al­lS­tar also won the 1969 NL MVP and was in­ducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986 af­ter his first time on the bal­lot.

“You knew right away he wasn’t an or­di­nary ballplayer,” Hall of Famer Hank Aaron said, courtesy of the Hall of Fame. “He was so strong, and he had the gift of know­ing the strike zone. There’s no telling how many home runs he would have hit if those knees weren’t both­er­ing him all the time and if he played in a park other than Can­dle­stick.”

McCovey had been get­ting around in a wheel­chair in re­cent years be­cause he could no longer rely on his once-de­pend­able legs, yet was still reg­u­larly seen at the ball­park in his pri­vate suite. McCovey had at­tended games at AT&T Park as re­cently as the sea­son fi­nale.

“I love him so much. It’s a very sad day for me. We were very close,” Hall of Famer Or­lando Cepeda said in a tele­phone in­ter­view. “Wil­lie McCovey was not only a great ballplayer but a great team­mate. He didn’t have any fear. He never com­plained.

“I re­mem­ber one time in 1960 they sent him down to the mi­nor leagues af­ter be­ing Rookie of the Year the year be­fore. He didn’t com­plain. He was very po­lite, he was very quiet. He was a great man, a great friend. I’m go­ing to miss him so much. He didn’t say a bad word about any­body.”

While the Giants cap­tured their third World Series ti­tle of the decade in 2014, McCovey re­turned to watch them play while still re­cov­er­ing from an in­fec­tion that hos­pi­tal­ized him that Septem­ber for about a month.

He at­tended one game at AT&T Park dur­ing both the NL Cham­pi­onship Series and World Series. He even waited for the team at the end of the pa­rade route in­side San Fran­cisco’s Civic Cen­ter.

“It was touch and go for a while,” McCovey said at the time. “They pulled me through, and I’ve come a long way.”

McCovey had been thrilled the Giants ac­com­plished some­thing he didn’t dur­ing a dec­o­rated ca­reer in the ma­jor leagues.

Even four-plus decades later, it still stung for the left-handed slug­ging “Big Mac” that he never won a World Series af­ter com­ing so close. The Giants lost the 1962 World Series to the New York Yan­kees.

He of­ten thought about that World Series, and it re­mained dif­fi­cult to ac­cept. The Giants lost 1-0 in Game 7 when McCovey lined out to sec­ond base­man Bobby Richard­son with run­ners on sec­ond and third for the fi­nal out.

“I still think about it all the time. I still think, ‘If I could have hit it a lit­tle more,’” he said on Oct. 31, 2014.

In 2012, he said: “I think about the drive, yes. Can’t get away from it.”

McCovey nar­rowly beat out Mets pitcher Tom Seaver for the 1969 MVP award. McCovey led the NL in home runs (45) and


line RBIs (126) for the sec­ond straight year, bat­ting .320 while also post­ing NL bests with a .453 on-base per­cent­age and .656 slug­ging per­cent­age. He was walked 121 times, then drew a ca­reer-high 137 free passes the next sea­son.

He had been third in the ‘68 vot­ing for NL MVP, but af­ter 1969 would never again fin­ish higher than ninth.

McCovey and Ted Wil­liams be­fore him were among the first play­ers to re­ally face in­field shifts as op­po­nents tried to af­fect his rhythm at the plate.

On Wed­nes­day night, for­mer team­mate Felipe Alou re­called invit­ing McCovey to play win­ter ball with him in 1958 for Escogido in Alou’s na­tive Do­mini­can Re­pub­lic.

McCovey got home­sick, so a still-sin­gle Alou moved out of his par­ents’ home and into an apart­ment with his dear friend and team­mate. They were room­mates in the mi­nors and ma­jors, too. McCovey called Alou “Ro­jas,” his fa­ther’s last name. Alou called him “Wil­lie Lee,” McCovey’s mid­dle name.

“We had a great re­la­tion­ship. In­cred­i­ble friend and player and in­di­vid­ual,” Alou said. “I have so many good mem­o­ries.”

McCovey was born on Jan. 10, 1938, in Mo­bile, Alabama. He had spent the last 18 years in a se­nior ad­vi­sory role for the Giants.

“For more than six decades, he gave his heart and soul to the Giants,” team pres­i­dent and CEO Larry Baer said. “As one of the great­est play­ers of all time, as a quiet leader in the club­house, as a men­tor to the Giants who fol­lowed in his foot­steps, as an in­spi­ra­tion to our Ju­nior Giants, and as a fan cheer­ing on the team from his booth.”

Said McCovey’s wife, Estela, whom he mar­ried this sum­mer: “Ev­ery mo­ment he will be ter­ri­bly missed. He was my best friend and hus­band. Liv­ing life with­out him will never be the same.”

McCovey had a daugh­ter, Al­li­son, and three grand­chil­dren, Raven, Philip, and Marissa. McCovey also is sur­vived by sis­ter Frances and broth­ers Clauzell and Cleon.

McCovey said that 2010 vic­tory, when the Giants won the fran­chise’s first World Series cham­pi­onship since mov­ing from New York in 1958, helped eased the pain for play­ers like him, Juan Marichal, Mays and Alou. See­ing San Fran­cisco in the Fall Clas­sic again brought those smiles back to McCovey’s face.

“We’re kind of get­ting spoiled,” he said in 2012. “This is two in three years. Peo­ple don’t re­al­ize how hard it is to get here. We’ve been pretty lucky.”

McCovey pre­sented the “Wil­lie Mac Award” each sea­son — ex­cept in 2014 while deal­ing with com­pli­ca­tions from the in­fec­tion — an honor voted on by the play­ers, coaches and train­ing staff to rec­og­nize the team’s player most ex­hibit­ing McCovey’s in­spi­ra­tional ex­am­ple both on the field and in the club­house. He was there this year as re­liever Will Smith was hon­ored.

“Some­thing I will cher­ish for­ever,” Smith wrote on Twit­ter on Wed­nes­day. “May he Rest In Peace.”

When San Fran­cisco opened its new wa­ter­front ball­park in 2000, the cove be­yond the right-field fence was named “McCovey Cove” in ap­pre­ci­a­tion of all he did for the or­ga­ni­za­tion. There’s a statue of McCovey’s like­ness on the other side of the wa­ter from where those splash hits land.

“Wil­lie McCovey was one of our game’s great­est power hit­ters. He won the Na­tional League MVP in 1969 and, along­side fel­low Hall of Famer and Alabama na­tive Wil­lie Mays, was a key part of many mem­o­rable Giants’ teams,” Com­mis­sioner Rob Man­fred said. “For 22 years on the field and many more af­ter re­tir­ing, Wil­lie was a su­perb am­bas­sador for the Giants and our game.”

The Giants said a pub­lic cel­e­bra­tion of McCovey’s life would be held at a later date.


In this April 1964 file photo, San Fran­cisco Giants’ Wil­lie McCovey poses for a photo. McCovey, the sweet-swing­ing Hall of Famer nick­named “Stretch” for his 6-foot-4 height and those long arms, has died. He was 80. The San Fran­cisco Giants an­nounced his death, say­ing the fear­some hit­ter passed “peace­fully” Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon, Oct. 31, 2018, “af­ter los­ing his bat­tle with on­go­ing health is­sues.”

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.