Remembering Giants legend Willie ‘Stretch’ McCovey

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Remembering Giants legend Willie ‘Stretch’ McCovey

Willie McCovey was a Giants great and Hall of Famer.

Willie McCovey was a Giants great and Hall of Famer.

Baseball Hall of Fame

Willie McCovey was a Giants great and Hall of Famer.

Baseball Hall of Fame

Baseball Hall of Fame

Willie McCovey was a Giants great and Hall of Famer.

Steven Rissotto '20, Sports Editor

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San Francisco Giants legend and Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey died on Oct. 31 after a lingering and long battle with multiple health issues. He was 80 years old.

McCovey was born in Alabama in 1938, the same state that Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were born and raised in. Young Willie loved baseball, and found himself signing a professional contract at age 17 for the New York Giants.

Although McCovey never played a home game in New York, he made his major league debut for the Giants just a year after their inaugural season in San Francisco, a new home for baseball. In his debut, he went four-for-four against future Hall of-Fame pitcher Robin Roberts. He later won the National League Rookie of the Year.

McCovey teamed up with center fielder Willie Mays, to make one of baseball’s greatest duos in history. Mays, coming from New York, was the far better player. Willie Mac was homegrown in San Francisco, which solidified his relationship with the fans. In 1962, the Giants made the World Series against the powerhouse New Yankees. In Game 7, McCovey came up to the plate with the Giants trailing by one run; runners in scoring position nonetheless. Known for his strong left handed power, he hit a laser beam right at the second baseman Bobby Richardson, who caught the missle head high. This ended up becoming Willie’s signature moment in the orange and black.

McCovey won the National League Most Valuable Player award in 1969 and was also the main event for fans in the right field bleachers at Candlestick Park. The ballpark in the Bayview Heights area of the city was known for its gusty winds and ugly conditions. With that being said, he led almost every offensive category in the ballpark history. Some say he would have hit more home runs if it wasn’t for the wind. After a strange, short stint with both the Oakland Athletics and the San Diego Padres, McCovey returned to San Francisco to finish his career where it started. He finished with 521 home runs, a NL leading 18 grand slams, and a legacy that will last forever. He was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown in 1986, his first year of eligibility.

In 2000, the Giants opened AT&T Park (then called Pacific Bell Park) on the shore of San Francisco Bay. The area beyond the right field wall was nicknamed McCovey Cove, which includes a statue on the other side. In 1980, his jersey number 44 was retired by the Giants.

English teacher and lifelong Giants fan Michael Vezzali Pascual ’88 said, “My favorite player of all-time. I wanted to be just like him. He was a man of such grace. When he hit the ball, he had the beautiful left-handed swing.”

Marvis Sutton, mother of English and Journalism teacher Susan Sutton, was an usherette at Candlestick from 1964-1967 and knew McCovey. He even gave her a ride to the park one day.

“I was walking down the street to Candlestick Park one day to go to work as an usherette and all of a sudden, this big black Cadillac pulled up alongside me and it was Willie McCovey!” she said. “He said, ‘Hi, Marvis. Can I give you a ride to the park?’ and of course I said YES and thank you.”

Because she worked in the section over the Giants’ dugout, the players knew her. Sutton knew McCovey to be a “kind and generous man. Very friendly.”

McCovey’s health problems were a concern in his playing days and he often played hurt. By the time he retired in 1980, his knees were completely shot. After numerous surgeries, he was unable to walk steadily, keeping him in a wheelchair during his later years. Beyond all of his accomplishments and statistics, McCovey was a gentle giant. He spent most nights in his box at AT&T Park and always welcomed fans. Willie McCovey will be remembered forever in baseball history.