SAN FRANCISCO -- Nobody, it seemed, wanted to let Willie McCovey go.The Giants hosted a celebration of McCovey's life on Thursday at AT&T Park, prompting a couple thousand fans and a wide array of ballplayers to show up in tribute. McCovey died on Oct. 31 at age 80.The variety of
SAN FRANCISCO -- Nobody, it seemed, wanted to let Willie McCovey go.
The Giants hosted a celebration of McCovey's life on Thursday at AT&T Park, prompting a couple thousand fans and a wide array of ballplayers to show up in tribute. McCovey died on Oct. 31 at age 80.
The variety of players attending the 2-hour function reflected the breadth and depth of McCovey's 19-year Giants career. Those paying tribute ranged from the obscure (pitchers Rich Robertson and Don Carrithers) to the legendary (Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry). Right-hander Jim Barr, whom McCovey called one of his favorite pitchers to play behind, was deservedly present.
For each Giant of recent vintage who showed, such as outfielder Randy Winn and current manager Bruce Bochy, there were older ones, including infielder Tito Fuentes, outfielder Felipe Alou and right-hander Bill Laskey, all of whom wanted to pay their respects.
Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa, intense rivals as managers, shared common ground on this particular day.
Then there was an exclusive group of Giants, the winners of the "Willie Mac" award, given annually to the player deemed most inspirational. Representing this cadre were outfielders Jack Clark (1980), Mike Felder ('92) and Marvin Benard ('99); left-hander Dave Dravecky ('89); utility man Shawon Dunston ('96), and catchers Buster Posey (2012) and Nick Hundley ('17).
Felder wore a windbreaker given exclusively to Willie Mac winners (it sports a tiny rendering of McCovey finishing his powerful swing). Touchingly, he also clutched his Willie Mac award plaque, his way of reciprocating the honor bestowed upon him.
"Today was all about celebrating Willie McCovey's life," Felder said. "What better way than to come with the plaque we receive in the presentation of the award and dressed in one of the jackets that we receive?"
Right-hander Mike Krukow told a hilarious story about yielding a grand slam to McCovey. Unfortunately for McCovey, the first-base umpire stumbled and didn't locate the ball until it landed in foul territory -- moments after clearly traveling inside the right-field foul pole.
An instant later, Krukow choked back tears after citing McCovey's renowned integrity and humility.
"I wanted to be like him," Krukow said.
Bonds, baseball's all-time career home run leader with 762, recalled asking McCovey if he could call him "Uncle Willie," owing to his respect for his predecessor as San Francisco's pre-eminent left-handed slugger. Of course, McCovey granted his wish.
Joe Amalfitano, a special assistant in player development for the Giants and a former infielder who played with McCovey in the Minor Leagues, spoke admiringly of the "love affair" the first baseman had with the city of San Francisco. McCovey's impressive array of statistics said nothing about the mutual adoration.
Those numbers, said Amalfitano, had "no pulse or heartbeat."
Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.