Photo credit: @NBCSGiants
By: Amaury Pi-González
SAN FRANCISCO — Today, the great Willie McCovey passed away at the age of 80 after a battle with ongoing health issues. He was surrounded by his family at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife Estela and daughter Allison. He was truly Gentle Giant in every sense of the word. He played for 22 seasons (19 with the San Francisco Giants, three with the San Diego Padres and a brief stint with the Oakland Athletics). During a brilliant 22-year, Hall of Fame career in the Major Leagues from 1959-1980, he compiled 2,211 hits, 521 home runs, 353 doubles and 1,555 runs batted-in. He was a first ballot inductee in 1986 to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, New York. Born in Mobile, Alabama on January 10,1938, he was one of ten children, and also played football and basketball as a youngster.
The first baseman and outfielder was nicknamed “Stretch.” At 6-foot-4, he was named the National League Rookie of the Year in 1959 with the Giants, selected to six All-Star Games and was named the MVP in the 1969 All-Star Game. He led the National League in home runs in three seasons and twice in runs batted-in. Only Barry Bonds (762) have more home runs for a left-handed hitter in the NL than McCovey with 521 round-trippers.
“He could hit a ball farther than anyone I ever played with,” Willie Mays once said of McCovey.
The great St. Louis Cardinals’ right-handed Hall of Fame pitcher, Bob Gibson, said of number 44: “He was one scary hitter.” Those are impressive words from a pitcher that usually was not scared of anybody. McCovey’s power was so awesome that the Giants designated the behind the right-field side by the bay at AT&T Park after the slugger and named it “McCovey Cove” where he also has a statue.
Before Candlestick Park was totally enclosed, most of us remember how many kids would line-up behind the cyclone fence in right field every time McCovey came to the plate expecting to catch a home run ball. He was the ultimate gamer, who among his many quotes, once said after retiring: “I had pain in both knees my whole career.”
Not only one great and classy baseball player, but McCovey was a kind man with a big heart who always ready to sign an autograph to an admiring fan. A mild mannered man that ingratiated baseball, his teammates and his organization. Never a scandal or controversy during a long and successful career. After retiring, he followed his beloved Giants and had his own box at AT&T Park. His presence and kindness will be missed.
Baseball and America lost a great guy today.