SAN FRANCISCO -- For the public, the most prominent item in Willie McCovey's last will and testament is the legacy he has bequeathed to the ages.Perhaps more than any other Giants player, McCovey came to embody the club he played for and the city he represented.• Hall of Fame slugger
SAN FRANCISCO -- For the public, the most prominent item in Willie McCovey's last will and testament is the legacy he has bequeathed to the ages.
Perhaps more than any other Giants player, McCovey came to embody the club he played for and the city he represented.
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In an interview last year in December as McCovey's 80th birthday approached, someone mentioned his habit of attending nearly every Giants home game at AT&T Park, to which he remarked, "That's part of being a Giant."
Nicknamed "Stretch" for his ability to grasp wayward throws, the 6-foot-4 McCovey seemed to symbolize San Francisco's other iconic spans, the Golden Gate Bridge and Bay Bridge. He stood as tall as Coit Tower or Nob Hill's Mark Hopkins Hotel, which San Franciscans of a certain age still consider the most prominent spots on the city's skyline, eclipsing any modern skyscraper.
A native of Mobile, Ala., McCovey lived in San Francisco for most of his 19-year career with the Giants and basically became a San Franciscan. He'd stroll from his residence to Kezar Stadium on autumn Sundays to watch the NFL's 49ers play. He attended opening night at the opera, which in San Francisco is as important an event as any World Series game. And he appeared at an infinite amount of charity and promotional events, including one when a boy named Larry Baer, now the Giants' president and chief executive officer, sat on his lap.
"He's Mr. San Francisco Giant," said former third baseman Darrell Evans, McCovey's teammate from 1977-80. "There's no question."
The Giants, who observed the 60th anniversary of their inaugural 1958 season in San Francisco in 2018, have guaranteed that McCovey's legacy will last long into the future.
The portion of San Francisco Bay that's adjacent to the walkway beyond the right-field wall at AT&T Park is known as McCovey Cove. The name was the brainchild of San Jose sports columnist Mark Purdy, who reasoned that the left-handed-batting, pull-hitting McCovey would have hit hundreds of pitches into the drink.
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A statue of McCovey, capturing the graceful follow-through that punctuated his violent yet smooth uppercutting swing, stands on the far side of the Cove. Only the five Hall of Famers who spent a plurality of their careers with the Giants since the franchise moved to San Francisco in 1958 have merited statues: Willie Mays, Juan Marichal, Orlando Cepeda, Gaylord Perry and McCovey.
His jersey number, 44, is one of 11 that the Giants have retired.
In 1980, the year McCovey retired as an active player, the club established the Willie Mac Award. The winner is chosen annually in a vote conducted primarily by Giants players, who select the teammate that provided the most inspiration and commanded the deepest respect, as McCovey did through much of his tenure with the team.
Despite his genial nature, which was enhanced by a thousand-watt smile -- "He was the nicest guy," former Giants outfielder Ken Henderson said -- McCovey could talk tough when necessary. His vocal support in recent years for Barry Bonds to gain induction to baseball's Hall of Fame has accompanied, and perhaps generated, the all-time home run leader's surge in the balloting.
Mays shall forever ennoble the franchise for his reputation as possibly MLB's greatest player ever. Bonds performed most of his stupendous slugging feats with the Giants and is widely credited with generating the momentum for the franchise to build AT&T Park, which is among the finest Major League venues. However, in the years immediately following the Giants' move from New York, it was McCovey who hit the most homers at Candlestick Park (236), the Giants' home from 1960-99. His personification of power helped the Giants build their enduring reputation as one of the most formidable clubs of the '60s while entrenching their presence in the Bay Area.
"Without his stamp of approval, there isn't any [presence]," said All-Star reliever and former Giants pitching coach Dave Righetti, whose favorite player as he grew up in San Jose was McCovey. "Willie Mays was awesome. But he was still a New York guy in a sense. McCovey was San Francisco's."
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.