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Baseball legend Willie McCovey dies at 80

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Willie McCovey looks onto the field before the Seattle Mariners face the San Francisco Giants at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif., on Tuesday, April 3, 2018.

San Francisco Giants great Willie McCovey died Wednesday afternoon, after succumbing to health issues that had been ongoing for several years.

The baseball Hall of Famer and Mobile, Alabama native made his big league debut with the Giants in 1959, during the team’s second season in San Francisco, and he went on to spend 18 of his 22 years in the majors in a Giants uniform.

Said Giants President & Chief Executive Officer Larry Baer:

“Willie was a beloved figure throughout his playing days and in retirement. He will be deeply missed by the many people he touched.  For more than six decades, he gave his heart and soul to the Giants – as one of the greatest players of all time, as a quiet leader in the clubhouse, as a mentor to the Giants who followed in his footsteps, as an inspiration to our Junior Giants and as a fan cheering on the team from his booth.”

According to the Giants, McCovey died peacefully surrounded by family and friends listening to his favorite sports channel. He was 80.

McCovey had a storied career that spanned four decades, during which he was a six-time All Star and won National League Rookie of the Year honors (1959), three NL home run crowns (1963, 1968, 1969) and the National League MVP award (1969). He also hit more home runs (521) than any left-hander in National League history, a record that stood until Barry Bonds came along, and he hit the most home runs ever at Candlestick Park (231).

In McCovey’s July 30, 1959, debut appearance facing Philadelphia Phillies future-Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts, McCovey hit in the three-hole behind Willie Mays, batting 4-for-4 with two singles and two triples, knocking Mays in twice and scoring three times himself. The pair of Forever Giants would share the middle of the order to similar results for years to come.

After 14 seasons with San Francisco, ‘Stretch’ played three seasons with the San Diego Padres (1974-76), and, at the tail end of the 1976 season, he played 11 games with the Oakland Athletics before returning to the Giants for the last three seasons of his career.

The six-time All-Star retired after the 1980 season ending his career with a .270 batting average and 1,555 RBI and becoming one of just 29 major leaguers to have played in four different decades.

Upon his retirement the Giants retired his jersey number (44) and created the Willie Mac Award, given to the season’s most inspirational Giant as deemed by teammates, coaches, training staff and, in recent years, fans. McCovey was on hand to present the award to this past season’s winner, Giants closer Will Smith.

San Francisco Mayor London Breed noted the impact McCovey’s legacy has had on the city:

“There’s a reason the Giants give an award every year in his name – the Willie Mac Award goes to the player who exemplifies what it means to be a great teammate on and off the field. He was a man of incredible warmth, humility, and kindness, and San Francisco will miss him.”

Breed announced that City Hall will be illuminated orange in honor of McCovey.

“Willie McCovey brought joy to so many San Franciscans through his years on the field and his dedication to our city. He was one of the greatest baseball players of all-time and also the quintessential San Francisco Giant.”

‘Stretch’ was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on his first ballot in 1986 with 81.4 percent of the vote, and was inducted into the Afro Sports Hall of Fame in 2009. The Giants hired him as a special adviser to the team in 2000 and McCovey attended games at AT&T Park regularly through the 2018 season. 

He is survived by his wife Estela, his sister Frances, his brothers, Clauzell and Cleon, his daughter Allison, and her children Raven, Philip and Marissa.

The Giants plan to hold a celebration of McCovey’s life at a later date but in the meantime they have announced that fans may send letters of condolences for the McCovey family to:

c/o San Francisco Giants

Attention: Forever 44

24 Willie Mays Plaza

San Francisco, CA 94107

or by email to Forever44@sfgiants.com.


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