What do I remember about Willie Mac? I hated seeing him face Big D. He owned Drysdale. If my memory is right, he hit 7 bombs off of Big D. During his career, Willie hit 45 homers against the Dodgers and drove in 162 runs.
His BA against was only .242, but he did a lot of damage. Mays did really well against the Dodgers during his career too. But as good as Willie was, I never once said oh no when he stepped to the plate in a clutch situation. But when McCovey came up, I cringed.
To me, Willie Mac was scary whenever he was at the plate, and remember, he was the reason they traded a pretty good first baseman, Orlando Cepeda, to open the position up.
McCovey had some awesome power. He was born in Mobile Alabama in 1938. He was the 7th of 10 children. His dad was a railroad worker.
Being a black child in Mobile in the 40’s and 50’s was not easy. Many of the kids would end up in gangs. They hung around street corners usually looking for trouble.
Due to his size, Willie and his friends played sports and dominated most of them. His mom ran the household, but his dad was the ultimate hammer, even though he was quiet. ” I got my share of whippings, you can bet on that,” Willie said. But he took those lessons and became a better person for it.
He was a first baseman in baseball, an end in football and played center when he played basketball. He was actually discovered by his playground director, whose brother had played in the Negro Leagues.
But Willie dropped out of high school at 16 to help the family. But then he went to Los Angeles to visit his brother Wyatt. Since his dad worked for the railroad, he rode for free. He liked LA so much he wanted to stay, but he got a call saying Alex Pompez had been trying to contact him.
He had set it up for Willie to attend a Giants tryout camp in Florida. The Giants sent him a bus ticket and he headed east.
Orlando Cepeda and Jose Pagan were also among the invitees. Even though he did not impress anyone, Pompez signed him anyway and he went to Class-D Georgia State League. His rise to MLB fame began.
Although still very raw he had little trouble hitting. He hit .305 with 19 homers his first season. It continued in Class-B ball the next year with .310 and 29 slugged out of the park.
Promoted to AA Dallas, he hit .281 with 11 homers the next season. But more importantly, he suffered injuries to his ankle and knee and missed several weeks of the season. Although he had some speed, after the injuries he would be considered slow afoot. His knee was so bad it had to be drained.
McCovey, now 20 years old in 1958, was promoted to AAA Phoenix. Some of his teammates were Felipe Alou, Leon Wagner, Tom Haller, Willie Kirkland and Ernie Broglio. The won the PCL Championship and Willie led the way with a .319 19 HR performance.
He made it to spring training with the Giants in 59, but they had 2 All-Star caliber first basemen already, Bill White, who made a good impression in 1956 and then spent two years in the army, and the reigning ROY, Orlando Cepeda.
Willie went back to Phoenix, but by July, he forced the Giants hand. He hit .372 with 29 homers and 92 RBI’s in 90 games. Called up on July 30th, he hit .358 with 13 homers in 52 games and was voted the Rookie of the Year.
The Giants had traded White to the Cardinals, so the Giants moved Cepeda to third base. The Giants got Sam Jones in the trade and he won 21 for the 59 team. They finished 4 games behind the Dodgers and Braves who tied for the pennant.
The Giants moved to Candlestick and manager Bill Rigney moved Cepeda to left field. Willie had a tough first year there. His BA dropped to .238 with 13 homers. He actually had a lot of knee problems from 60-62 limiting him to 298 games over that span. He averaged 20 homers and 50 RBI’s a year, but his knee just would not allow him to play a lot.
That changed in 1963. He slugged 44 homers and drove in 100 for the first time. He made his first All-Star team. Although Willie would only hit over .300 once the rest of his career, he was becoming one of the most feared hitters in the league.
He terrorized the Dodgers. As a matter of fact, he scared everybody. He could launch one at any moment. And he was becoming a decent first baseman, something he worked hard at. His nickname was stretch.
Drysdale was his favorite victim. Over his career he battered Big D for a .336 avg and 12 homers. 12 of the 45 he hit against LA.
Willie would be the MVP in 1969 when he crushed 45 homers and drove in 126. It also was the last time he ever hit .300 with a .320 mark. His knee would continue to bother him over the rest of his career.
He would end up playing 22 years in the league. 19 of them with the Giants, 3 in San Diego and 11 games in Oakland in Oakland. He left SF in a trade for Mike Caldwell of the Padres in Oct of 1973. Bernie Williams was part of that trade too. No, not the Yankee great, the Other Bernie Williams.
The A’s purchased him in August of 76. He went back to the Giants as a free agent in ’77 and would spend 4 more years there before retiring in 1980. What is amazing is that in over 9600 plate appearances, he struck out only 1550 times.
His final line was .270/521/1555. Good enough to get him elected to the Hall in 1986 in his first year on the ballot. Stretch died in 2018 at the age of 80. He is the one opposing player I saw play that I feared every time he stepped to the plate.