Willie McCovey passed away this afternoon at Stanford Hospital. He leaves behind his family, an unforgettable baseball record, thousands of fans in San Francisco, and countless more across the globe.
The Giants reported it was the result of “ongoing health issues”. Whatever the cause, McCovey’s departure evokes the purest sense of mortality that no baseball fan wants to feel. These players become heroes and that heroism becomes frozen in time. No matter the health setbacks or appearances in a wheelchair, the memories of their physical accomplishments are always there, always alive, reinvigorated by the hero’s appearance.
We won’t see Willie McCovey at the next Willie Mac Award ceremony. We won’t see Willie McCovey ever again. It’s up to us to remember him and inspire each other just as he inspired his teammates and an entire franchise. That’s not Jack Clark Cove out there — it’s McCovey Cove, and for good reason.
There were few hitters as feared as McCovey in his day. He wasn’t an All-Star until his fifth year in the league, but by that point, he had amassed 108 home runs in 502 games. He’d play 17 more seasons, of course, and hit 413 more home runs for a career total of 521. In 1986, after receiving 81.4% of the vote, he was inducted into the Hall of Fame. The first line of his Hall of Fame plaque reads, “Top left-handed home run hitter in N.L. history with 521”. And the first line of his bio on the Hall of Fame’s website says the rest:
“If you let him bat 600 times and pitched to him instead of around him, he’d hit 80 home runs,” said Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson.
As Grant has noted many times before on this very site, he was San Francisco’s homegrown hero. Willie Mays was the import from New York; McCovey belonged to the bay. His relationship was a little bit different from the greatest to ever play the game because he was the greatest to ever play the game for San Francisco. And he loved doing it for the city.
Grant wrote this on McCovey’s 80th birthday:
I would like you to stop for a moment and consider something: It’s incredibly unique for a living legend to attend almost all of his former team’s games, year after year. Every year, we’re treated with a reminder that, oh, yes, Willie Freaking McCovey is in the ballpark, watching the game because he wants to. Even though his mobility is severely compromised, he still attends games at AT&T Park all the time. Because he wants to.
It wasn’t a pose. He loved the Giants just how you loved the Giants and that made it impossible not to love Willie McCovey more. This site would not exist without the spirit and talents of this man and he will be sorely missed.