Baseball Hall of Fame first baseman and longtime San Francisco Giants first baseman Willie McCovey passed away on Wednesday at age 80.
“San Francisco and the entire baseball community lost a true gentleman and legend, and our collective hearts are broken,” Giants team president & CEO Larry Baer said in a statement. “Willie was a beloved figure throughout his playing days and in retirement. He will be deeply missed by the many people he touched.”
McCovey was a fearsome hitter for 22 seasons in the majors, 19 of which were with the Giants. He hit .270/.374/.515 in a tough offensive environment and era, posting a 147 OPS+. His 521 career home runs ranked eighth all-time when he retired.
The six-time All-Star won National League Rookie of the Year in 1959, and NL MVP in 1969. His accomplishments on the field got him inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1986.
MLB commissioner Rob Manfred called McCovey “a superb ambassador for the Giants and our game.”
But his impact in San Francisco was felt well beyond the field. Since he retired in 1980, the Giants have bestowed the Willie Mac Award in his honor to the player who “best exemplifies the spirit and leadership consistently shown by McCovey throughout his career.”
I had the pleasure of seeing the ceremony for the Willie Mac Award in 2018, awarded to Giants pitcher Will Smith, on the final day of the regular season in San Francisco. McCovey was there to present the award, as always, and the collective love and affection for him from both the fans and players alike was palpable.
“From his humble beginnings in the segregated South to his induction to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame, Willie McCovey lived the American Dream. He earned international renown for his talent and leadership. For decades after he retired, Willie’s community service earned the devotion of generations of San Franciscans,” U.S. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a statement. “We will carry Willie in our hearts, and honor his memory every time the Giants drive a home run into McCovey Cove. May it be a comfort to Willie’s wife Estela and the entire McCovey family that our whole city, and so many more across the country, join in mourning this extraordinary man.”
McCovey also had one of the best nicknames in baseball.
“‘Stretch’ was among the most feared sluggers of that era and a true Hall of Famer on and off the field,” said MLBPA executive director Tony Clark.
“Every moment he will be terribly missed. He was my best friend and husband. Living life without him will never be the same,” said McCovey’s wife Estela.
Photo Credit: ABC7 News