San Francisco Giants 60 Seasons from Worst To Greatest: 45-41
By Stephen Ruderman
43: [1980, 75-86, 5th NL West]
The 1970s had its share of memorable moments, but it was nowhere near as memorable as the 1960s. The Giants entered the new decade with a team that contended in 1978, but disappointed in 1979. This included one of the Giants’ all-time greats, whose career now entered its fourth decade, Willie McCovey.
McCovey originally came up in 1959, which was just the Giants’ second season in the City by the Bay. He was traded after 1973 when Horace Stoneham ran out of money, but a year after new owner Bob Lurie saved the team in 1976, McCovey returned home in 1977. Willie Mac gave the Giants and their fans even more memorable moments, including his 500th career home run in 1978. McCovey was now 42, and his knees, which had hampered him his entire career, were barely holding on as he neared the end of his career.
The Giants got off to a terrible start, as they went 8-19 in their first 27 games, and they were already 10 games out of first place. McCovey was struggling, and he didn’t play much. He struggled to hit over the Mendoza Line at .200, and he only had one home run in the first half of the season.
Despite his struggles, McCovey felt he could still hit, but more than anything, he wanted to retire as a Giant. Willie Mays, Juan Marichal and Orlando Cepeda never got the chance to retire as a Giant, but McCovey pounced on the chance that he had. He decided he was going to retire at the All-Star Break. He played his final home game on July 3 against the Cincinnati Reds. Only 26,133 fans filled the Stick on that Thursday afternoon, but they all gave him numerous standing ovations throughout the game.
The final game of Willie McCovey’s career was on July 6 at Dodger Stadium of all places. McCovey pinch-hit in the eighth inning and gave the Giants the lead with a sacrifice fly, and then he left the field to a standing ovation of 46,244 fans, who most likely all despised him in the 1960s. That was the kind of player Willie McCovey was.
After McCovey retired, the Giants climbed back to around .500 and back into contention. The Giants were only five games out of first place on Aug. 17. The Giants continued to play good ball, as they got over .500, but they had an uphill battle, as they were eight games back on Aug. 31.
Unfortunately, the Giants collapsed in September, and they finished the season with a 19-32 slide to go 75-86.
1980 was yet another rough season for the Giants, but it was a rough season with many right spots and memorable moments. Darrel Evans and Jack Clark both had solid seasons and helped the Giants somewhat contend. Clark was awarded the inaugural Willie Mac Award, which was named after Willie McCovey and awarded to the player who best exemplified McCovey’s leadership.