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Baseball Legends: Willie McCovey (Giants 1959-1973, 1977-1980, Padres 1974-1976, A’s 1976)

May 18, 2008

He may not be the most famous Giant, but Willie McCovey deserves a great deal of consideration when talking about the greatest players in baseball history. Overshadowed throughout most of his career by the other Willie on his team, McCovey was a true team player and rose above any petty bickering or bitter jealousy that may have eaten away at a lesser man.

“Stretch” made his debut in July 1959, going 4-4 against Phillies hurler Robin Roberts. Despite the late start he won the National League Rookie of the Year Award, playing so well that no other rookies in 1959 even received a single vote. In the 52 games he played that year, he went yard 13 times and drove in 38 runs while batting .354. It was 1963, however, when McCovey truly started tearing the cover off the ball, slugging 44 home runs to tie Hank Aaron for the NL lead and earning his first of six trips to the All-Star Game.

He was a generally quiet individual who let his bat do the talking, and the MVP voters listened very closely to that bat. In his 22 seasons, McCovey received MVP votes 10 times, winning the honor in 1969 with 45 home runs, 126 RBI, and .320 batting average. It was a close race, as he and Tom Seaver both received 11 first-place votes, but McCovey edged him out for the award 265-243.

The Giants only reached the postseason twice with McCovey on board, in 1962 and 1971. In eight games, he hit three home runs, drove in seven, and batted .310. In All-Star Game play, the slugger only had three hits in 16 at-bats; two of those hits were home runs smashed in the 1969 contest.

McCovey joined the once-exclusive 500-home run club in 1978, and finished his career in 1980 with 521 longballs. He ranks among the top 50 players for career home runs, runs batted in, bases on balls, strikeouts, adjusted OPS+, runs created, and extra base hits. He is third all-time with 260 intentional walks; only Barry Bonds and Hank Aaron received more free passes in their careers.

McCovey was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.

See McCovey’s career statistics at baseball-almanac.com.

Written by JT at The Writer’s Journey.

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3 comments

  1. My family was filled with die-hard Mets fans. On my first visit ever to Shea Stdium when I was 6 years old, Willie hit the most amazing home run you could ever see. It was such a blast and my old Man was screaming that the Mets should never give Stretch anything to hit. At the ballpark I realized that his baseball card was in my pocket. Willie had the friendliest face and best statistics of any player. What did I care that he wasn’t a Met? Willie Lee McCovey became my favorite player from that moment in the 1960s all the way up until he retired in 1980. I think that I was lucky to have Willie as my sports hero. He turned out to be a kind, gentle giant and truly one of the great Ambassadors of baseball. Love you Willie!


  2. Willie was with my favorite team, the Padres and he exuded class from day one. My neighbor across the street was a baseball groupie (many times brining the single players home to eat with her family) and I got a meeting with Willie on a couple of occasions – Wow! He lit up a room kind of like people say how a president of the USA would.

    I once asked Jake Peavy about his number 44 (both him and McCovey being from Mobile and all). We got to talking about the tradition of the number and when I mentioned Willie wearing it for the Padres, his first reaction was to say that was THE biggest influence to choosing it with the Padres.


  3. i won the willie mac award in 2007 and shook his hand. as a kid that meant alot to me. he has been my legend since than



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