A handful of those who knew Willie “Stretch” McCovey shared their stories and admiration on McCovey’s Celebration of Life on Thursday, Nov. 8 at AT&T Park.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed, San Francisco Giants President and CEO Larry Baer, the National Baseball Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson and many family members, former players and teammates reminded those in attendance of McCovey’s love for the city of San Francisco and the San Francisco Giants community.
“That guy played for the name in front of his uniform, not the one in the back,” said Joe Amalfitano, a current special assignment scout and a former teammate of McCovey.
While all the speakers had their own experiences to talk about, all of them had a common theme: love and admiration for McCovey, and McCovey’s love for others.
“What baseball-loving kid could possibly resist number 44 (McCovey’s number)?” said Baer. “That graceful … almost languished sweeping that suddenly exploded into the ball, those long legs galloping around the bases, his soft hands scooping a throw out of the dirt.”
Barry Bonds, another Giants legend, took the podium to talk about being mentored by “Uncle Mac.”
“My father and McCovey were great friends, and Mac loved our family unconditionally,” Bonds said.
McCovey– a member of an elite seven player club to hold titles as the rookie of the year, league MVP and all-star game MVP– was one of many San Francisco Giants icons.
Some would even say he was the San Francisco Giants icon.
“He is the San Francisco Giants,” said Leon Gray, 60, a San Francisco native and long-time Giants fan.
McCovey has a piece of San Francisco Bay named after him. The spot, off the right field wall of AT&T Park, is called the McCovey cove.
With all the accolades and stats engraved at the McCovey Ccove right besideof the AT&T park, it’s important to note that it is his off-the-bat activities and demeanor that hold a place in many fans’ hearts.
“Nowadays you want to be like… Michael Jordan, back in those days, you wanted to be like Willie McCovey, because … he was quiet, he was humble,” said Moe Chambers, 58, one of the ceremony attendees. “I never saw him dress down an opponent or a teammate, it was always ‘come on, you can do it.’ He was a pat on the back type of person.”
McCovey’s legacy reaches further than just the Bay Area.
“My home is North Carolina; Greensboro, North Carolina,” said Chambers. “At that time, Willie McCovey was playing ball and North Carolina didn’t have a professional team. The war effort, people that worked in the service industry, … so many people came to California that California teams became our teams. Willie McCovey became our people, our family.”
Teamed up with another Giants great, Willie Mays, McCovey was part of a powerful 1-2 duo that no pitcher wanted to see.
A World Series ring was one of the few accolades that McCovey was missing from his Hall of Fame career that spanned 22 years, 521 home runs and 1,555 RBI’s.
“This city embraced him,” said Amalfitano. “This guy, again, will never be forgotten.”