Willie McCovey, who won the National League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards during a 22-year career largely spent with the San Francisco Giants, has died, the club announced Wednesday. He was 80 years old.
In a Twitter post, the Giants said McCovey had “passed away peacefully” on Wednesday afternoon. No cause of death was given, but the team said McCovey had been struggling with ongoing health issues.
McCovey had used a wheelchair to get around in recent years but was still a regular at San Francisco’s AT&T Park, where he watched Giants games in a private suite. On Sept. 30, he attended the Giants’ season finale against the hated Dodgers.
An Alabama native, like his illustrious teammate Willie Mays, McCovey made an immediate impression upon his debut in 1959. Despite appearing in just 52 games, the 21-year-old batted .354 with 13 home runs, 38 RBIs and a 1.085 on-base plus slugging percentage. It was good enough for him to be named the NL Rookie of the Year in a unanimous vote.
Three years later, McCovey came as close as he ever would to winning a championship. With runners at second and third and two outs, the man nicknamed “Stretch” came to the plate with the Giants trailing the New York Yankees 1-0 in the deciding game of the 1962 World Series. McCovey smoked a line drive off the Yankees’ Ralph Terry –only to watch helplessly as New York second baseman Bobby Richardson snagged it.
Two months later, Bay Area resident Charles Schulz put the words of millions of Giants fans and Yankee haters into the mouth of his most beloved creation.
“Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?” asked Charlie Brown.
McCovey was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1986, his first year of eligibility.