Willie McCovey, Giants legend and Hall of Fame first baseman, dead at 80

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San Francisco Giants Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey has died, the team said Wednesday. He was 80.

The Giants said the Bay Area legend died peacefully at Stanford Hospital after a "long battle with ongoing health issues."

“I am grateful that my father passed peacefully surrounded by his family and friends while listening to his favorite sports channel,” said Willie’s daughter Allison McCovey.

McCovey had been in a wheel chair for many years and suffered a major infection four years ago that almost killed him. He was recently hospitalized after developing another infection, according the San Francisco Chronicle

The 1969 National League MVP played for the Giants from 1959-1973, where he and Willie Mays made up one of the deadliest duos in baseball history. Nicknamed Stretch because of his 6-foot-4 frame, McCovey went 4-for-4 against future Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts in his very first game as a Giant on his way to earning National League Rookie of the Year honors. 

Giants Hall of Fame broadcaster Jon Miller spoke with KTVU on air and recalled his early memories of the slugger. "When you think of McCovey, you think of power," he said, adding that some people forget how great of an all around player he was. "He was a big guy and hit long home runs and could literally do it all."

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In many ways, McCovey was the Giants' first hero without a New York connection after the club moved to San Francisco in 1958. And his legacy certainly didn't end when he played his last game. McCovey was immortalized in bronze in front of AT&T Park as the centerpiece of McCovy Point which looks over a stretch of the bay affectionately named McCovey Cove.

And since 1980, every season the team presents the Willie Mac Award to the most inspirational player. Traditionally, McCovey personally presented the award at a pregame ceremony.

Giants President and CEO Larry Baer released a statement that said, in part: 

"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."

Born in Mobile, Alabama, McCovey went on to be a three-time National League home run leader and twice led the league in RBI. In a 22-year career that included three season with the Padres and one with the Athletics, the six-time All-Star hit 521 home runs and 1,555 RBI while posting a lifetime .270 batting average​​​​​​. McCovey was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986, his first year of eligibility. 

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“San Francisco and the entire baseball community lost a true gentleman and legend, and our collective hearts are broken,” Baer said. “Willie was a beloved figure throughout his playing days and in retirement. He will be deeply missed by the many people he touched.  

McCovey is survived by his sister Frances and his brothers, Clauzell and Cleon.

“Every moment he will be terribly missed. He was my best friend and husband. Living life without him will never be the same,” said Willie’s wife Estela McCovey.

During his final years, it was challenging for McCovey to get around and especially tough for him to get to AT&T Park, those close to him share. But he still made it to every home game and was always ready to talk baseball. 

A public celebration of Willie’s life will be announced at a later date. Fans who wish to offer their condolences may send letters to the McCovey family care of San Francisco Giants, attention Forever 44, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107. Or they may email Forever44@sfgiants.com.