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Willie McCovey
#44 | First baseman | San Francisco Giants/New York Giants


Willie Lee McCovey: "Stretch"; "Big Mac"

     A dangerous hitter with a keen batting eye, Stretch finished his career with 521 home runs, leading the National League in home run and slugging percentage three times each.  He finished with a mediocre career batting average of .270.

     McCovey was quickly successful in the National League, winning the Rookie of the Year Award in 1959, a year after teammate Orlando Cepeda won the award in 1958.  But McCovey slumped badly in 1960 and spent time in the minor leagues at Tacoma; while he was in the majors in 1960 and 1961, he usually played at first base, sharing time with Cepeda.  McCovey played most of his games in the outfield in 1963 and 1964, deferring to the smoother-fielding Baby Bull.

     Because he emerged as star later in his career than Cepeda, his talents weren't heralded by the fans and media as much as the talents of his teammates - Cepeda, Willie Mays, and Juan Marichal.  Still, McCovey was an integral part of a Giants team that challenged for the pennant McCovey for a decade, reaching the World Series in 1962 and the NL playoffs in 1971.

     McCovey joined the Giants in the middle of the 1959 season and debuted by going 4-for-4, with two singles and two triples against, Hall of Famer Robin Roberts.  In 1962, it all came together for the Giants - with Willie Mays and Orlando Cepeda having monster years, and McCovey chipping in with 20 HR and 54 RBI in 229 at-bats.  The Giants also boasted a terrific pitching staff that year - in a season when the league ERA was 3.94, four starters (Juan Marichal, 3.36; Jack Sanford, 3.43; Billy O'Dell, 3.53; and Billy Pierce, 3.59) came in well under that.

     They won 103 games, edged out the Dodgers by a game, and met the powerful Yankees in the World Series.  On October 16, 1962 at Candlestick Park, McCovey came within inches of being a World Series hero.  In Game 7, Ralph Terry pitched his second complete game win of the Series; but in the bottom of the ninth inning, protecting a 1-0 lead, he had runners at second and third with two out.  McCovey stepped to the plate, and ripped a line drive toward right field  ... that second baseman Bobby Richardson speared to end the Series.

     The play has been discussed by fans ever since.  It even became a running element of Charles Schulz's "Peanuts" comic strip, a moment in life that Charlie Brown could relate to with complete empathy.

     McCovey had his best year in 1969 - he led the NL with 45 homers, 126 RBI, a .656 slugging percentage, and an on-base percentage of .453.  He won the MVP award, edging out Tom Seaver, following Mays (1954, 1965) and Cepeda (in 1967 in St. Louis) in doing so.  He also recorded 45 intentional walks (a record until Barry Bonds broke it with 68 in 2002) and finished fifth with a .320 batting average.  His 9.2 home run percentage that year is one of the highest ever.

     Giants owners devastated Bay Area fans by sending McCovey, their favorite player, to the upstart San Diego Padres prior to the 1974 season.  McCovey had two good seasons and one poor one before the Padres sold him to the Oakland Athletics, the Giants' cross-bay competition.  He played in only 11 games for the A's, who released him at the end of the season.  McCovey was invited by new Giants ownership to San Francisco's spring training camp in 1977, and he responded with a 28-homer, 86-RBI comeback at the age of 39.

 


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