Willie McCovey was baseball in San Francisco and among all the San Francisco Giants, he was as big as there ever was.
The San Francisco Giants announced that the Hall of Fame first baseman died from ongoing health issues at the age of 80.
On July 30, 1959, McCovey burst onto the scene, starting at first base, batting third and going 4 for 4 with two triples.
That led to a Rookie of the Year award at the end of the season, despite playing only 52 games, and a love affair with the people of San Francisco that never diminished.
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He played 19 years for the Giants, and while Willie Mays was already a legend when the team arrived in San Francisco, the city fell in love with the home grown power hitter.
McCovey was one of the most devastating hitters to ever play, often being intentionally walked for fear of his bat.
That fear was felt by all opposing pitchers of the day.
"“I think it’s fair to say McCovey has never been as highly acclaimed as he deserved,” longtime Dodgers pitcher Don Sutton said in 1986. “He easily was the most feared hitter in the league.”"
His 521 home runs is tied for 20th all-time, and his 469 home runs as a San Francisco Giant is second behind only Barry Bonds since 1958.
The 1969 MVP was a six time All-Star, the 1977 comeback player of the year and still holds the National League record for grand slams with 18.
The team retired his number 44 the same year his retired in 1980. The .270 hitter finished his career with 2211 hits and 1555 runs batted in. He also slashed .270/.374/.515 for an OPS of .889 and an OPS+ of 147. His 64.5 wins above replacement is 11th among first baseman all-time and his OPS+ is 12th.
After his retirement from baseball, the Giants announced the start of the Willie Mac Award to honor the team’s most inspirational player. When the team moved from Candlestick Park to AT&T Park in 2000, the team named the cove beyond right field after him and erected a statue in his honor.
The entire baseball community sent an outpouring of love through social media from both those who knew him well and those that only knew of him through stories told to them through the generations.
There will never be another quite like “Stretch” and his memory will live forever in the hearts of the fans of San Francisco and the entire baseball community.