A Tribute to the Baseball Greats Who Have Passed in 2018

Baseball great Willie McCovey
Photo Credit: Krestin Churchwell

Willie Lee “Stretch” McCovey

Willie Lee “Stretch” McCovey (January 10, 1938 – October 31, 2018) was born and raised in Mobile, Alabama, and was signed into the New York Giants minor league franchise by the same agent who signed Hank Aaron. He came up into the majors after the team had relocated to San Francisco and debuted on July 30, 1959. He opened his career against the Phillies star Robin Roberts and hit two singles and two triples. He went on to finish 52 games, with a .354 batting average and 13 homers. In his first full season, he had a 22-game hitting streak, the team record for a rookie.

“Stretch” established himself as a baseball great when, in 1962, he led the team to the World Series against the formidable Yankees.

Although he had Willie Mays on third and Matty Alou on second, McCovey hit a screamer right to second baseman Bobby Richardson to end the game and give the Yankees the title. The moment was immortalized in two Peanuts comic strips: “The first ran on December 22, 1962, with Charlie sitting silently alongside Linus for three panels before suddenly lamenting, “Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?” The second, from January 28, 1963, featured Charlie Brown breaking an identical extended silence by crying, “Or why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball even two feet higher?”

26 years later, on the occasion of his Hall of Fame election, McCovey was asked how he would like his career to be remembered. ‘As the guy who hit the ball over Bobby Richardson’s head in the seventh game,’ replied McCovey” (from Wikipedia, Willie McCovey).

He hit the heart of the Giants batting order, along with Willie Mays. His best season was 1969, when he hit 45 home tuns, 126 RBI, and batted .320 to become the National League MVP. Later in his career he was traded and played several years with both the San Diego Padres and the Oakland Athletics, but returned to play the 1977 to 1980 seasons with the Giants. With the retirement of both Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson, McCovey returned as the leading active home run hitter, with 465. On June 30, 1978, he hit his 500th home run in Atlanta, and ended his career after his 521st in Montreal.

During his 22-year career, Willie batted .270, with 521 home runs, 1,555 RBIs, 2,211 hits and a .514 slugging percentage. He also hit 18 grand slams, a National League record, and appeared in six All-Star games.

After retirement, he was a senior advisor for the Giants for 18 years, In 2003 he also opened his own restaurant in Walnut Creek, California. His number was retired by the Giants in 1980, and went the Giants opened their new AT&T Park, they named the cove off the outfield McCovey Cove, where canoes ply during games hoping for a fly ball to be hit out of the park and into their boat. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, one of the first to receive the honor in the first vote. He passed away at the age of 80 in San Francisco after a lung infection. His longtime friend and fellow Hall of Famer Joe Morgan was at his bedside.

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