Monday, January 10, 2011

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Willie McCovey | Baseball Digest

Baseball Digest Birthdays: Willie McCovey | Baseball Digest

Willie Lee McCovey is one of the best ball players that many people don’t know much about. That’s what happens when your a soft spoken southern (Mobile, AL) gentleman playing on a team of stars, including fellow Hall of Fame members Willie Mays, Orlando Cepeda, and Juan Marichal.

For instance, did you realize that McCovey spent a good deal of his early days in San Francisco playing the outfield due to Cepeda and others occupying 1st base? He wouldn’t become a full time 1st baseman until 1965, but played there for the remainder of his career (with a 9 game stint as a DH thrown in there for the Oakland A’s in 1976).

McCovey came on the scene with a fury in 1959, winning the Rookie of the Year award despite playing in only 52 games. But a .354 average, 13 HR, and 38 RBI earned him all 24 first place votes for the award.

He would have his struggles too though, getting sent down to the minors the very next year when he went from hero to zero at age 22 and was met with boos on a regular basis by the Giants fan base. He was demoted in mid-July and hit just .238 for the season, matching his rookie home run total despite 88 more plate appearances.

McCovey’s prodigious slugging was not to be denied. The man known as “Stretch” had a run from 1963-1970 in which he averaged 36 home runs, 99 RBI, and 82 walks. The final three years of that period was McCovey at his best.

His 36 HR, 105 RBI, .923 OPS season in 1968 was topped by an MVP campaign in 1969, the first year of divisional play. The Giants were in first place with eight games left in the season, but finished 3-5 to fall three games behind Atlanta. It should be noted that the Giants were in that position due to the amazing offensive display McCovey put on all year.

“Stretch” smacked 45 home runs and drove in 121 runs despite leading the lead with 121 walks (45 of which were intentional) in 1969. Throw in a .320 batting average and a .656 slugging percentage and you can understand why McCovey beat out Tom Seaver (25 wins, 2.21 ERA) by 22 points to capture the NL MVP award. For an encore in 1970, McCovey matched his ’69 RBI total, posted a 1.056 OPS, and hit “just” 39 home runs while walking 137 times.

In 1970 the NY Post’s Milton Gross wrote “Why McCovey Won the MVP Award” by basically carrying the team on his back. Check it out here.

The Giants would reach the World Series just once (1962) in McCovey’s tenure, but he provided one of the most famous highlights in post-season play. The series was tied at three games apiece against the Yankees with the finale in Candlestick Park. The Giants trailed 1-0 in the 9th inning and were down to their final out. With two men aboard, Yankees starter Ralph Terry elected to face McCovey rather than walk him and pitch to Cepeda. McCovey nearly made him pay, hitting one of the hardest balls you will ever see…right at 2nd baseman Bobby Richardson for the final out of the series. It was doubly heartbreaking for McCovey because he would reach the post-season just one other time in his illustrious career, losing in the NLCS to the Pirates in 1971.

The big man was dealt to the San Diego Padres after the ’73 season as the Giants looked to get younger. He would spend the next two plus seasons with the lowly Pads before spending the final month of the 1976 season with the Oakland Athletics. McCovey was welcomed back into the Giants fold as a 39-yr old free agent a year later and spent the last four seasons of his career calling Candlestick Park his home once again. McCovey’s final home run in the major leagues tied him with Ted Williams for, at the time, 10th place on the all-time list with 521. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986 in his second year of eligibility (Lou Brock and Hoyt Wilhelm took the majority of the votes the prior year).

His knees are in bad shape and he often uses crutches, but McCovey can still be seen semi-regularly at the Giants’ Pac Bell Park watching long home runs hit into the area of San Francisco Bay dubbed “McCovey Cove” in honor of the now 73-yr old slugger.

Happy Birthday Willie McCovey.

Also celebrating a birthday today:

Ervin Santana is 28. The right-hander has won 76 games in his six big league seasons with the Angels. The Dominican native loves even numbers years, winning 16 games twice and 17 last season. He was an All-Star in 2008 and finished sixth in the AL CY Young voting that season.

Adam Kennedy turns 35. The veteran of 12 seasons is a free agent still seeking employment for 2011. Originally a draft choice of the St. Louis Cardinals, he was dealt to the Anaheim Angels prior to the 2000 season in a deal that brought Jim Edmonds to Missouri. He finished sixth in the AL Rookie of the Year voting that season when he drove in 72 runs and stole 22 bases in 30 attempts. Kennedy was a key to the Angels lone World Series championship in 2002, hitting a combined .409 with four home runs and eight RBI in the division and championship series. After seven seasons with the Halos, Kennedy was a utility man back in St. Louis for a couple of years before spending a year each with Oakland and Washington.

Also born on this day- Hall of Fame member Harry Wright (1835-1895), who was a player/manager for the Boston Red Stockings (National Association) and Boston Red Caps (NL) from 1871-1877. A rookie at age 36, he retired and became a full time manager in 1878. He would manage for 25 years and was inducted in the Hall as a Pioneer/Executive in 1953.

No comments:

Post a Comment