- 521 HR
- 1,555 RBI
- 2,211 hits
- 6x All-Star
- 3x HR leader
- 2x RBI leader
- 1969 National League MVP
- 1959 National League ROY
Yesterday the baseball world lost one of its greatest power hitters. Willie McCovey died at the age of 80. He died with his family and loved ones around him. The San Francisco community, and the baseball community in general, are mourning his passing this morning. Willie was a giant on the field and a giant to the city of San Francisco.
When I first started following sports, I was in awe of Willie McCovey. He was huge, he was powerful, he seemed larger than life. If you would have asked 8 year old me, I would have sworn that he and Harmon Killebrew were the 2 strongest men in the world. That’s the image that formed in my mind when I watched these guys play. I had more exposure to McCovey, living in a National League city. I always enjoyed watching him play, watching his smooth swing, seeing that much power coming from a piece of wood in his hands. He was truly a joy to watch.
McCovey played baseball for 22 seasons, 19 of those with the Giants. The fact that he hit 521 HR playing primarily in a park that was definitely not friendly to hitters is a testament to his raw power. He was dangerous at the plate, always a threat to go deep. Bob Gibson called him the most dangerous hitter in the game. That’s a huge nod of respect coming from one of the best pitchers ever to step onto a field. Willie McCovey made baseball better. He was loved by both teammates and fans in San Francisco.
He finished his career with a .270 batting average, a .374 OBP, and a .515 slugging percentage. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986 on his first ballot. His uniform number 44 has been retired by the Giants. Willie was simply larger than life; he defined baseball, along with teammate Willie Mays, in the San Francisco area for almost 2 decades.
One of the drawbacks to getting older is seeing your boyhood idols pass away. It’s part of life, we all know it’s coming, but sometimes they hurt. Willie McCovey, aka Stretch, falls into that category for me. He was so good, so big, that he didn’t seem real. If you never got the chance to see him play, I highly recommend that you dig up some clips. Watch how smooth his swing was for a big man. Watch the way he played first base, covering so much ground with ease. Just watch and appreciate the player he was.
I’m glad to have had the opportunity to watch him play in person one night at Riverfront Stadium in the early 70s. Even from my 2nd level seats, he looked huge. I can honestly say I got to see one of the greatest power hitters that Major League Baseball has ever had. RIP Willie.