Friday, August 26, 2011

Familiar Faces / Strange Places: Willie McCovey / Athletics

This particular FF/SP card has been on my "to do" list for some time. Unfortunately there just wasn't any color images of McCovey in an A's uniform readily available. Luckily I found a couple of nice black and white images and colorized this one.

Willie McCovey originally signed with the New York Giants in 1955. He never got to play in New York because his Giants left Manhattan for San Francisco before he made it to the majors.

Nicknamed "Strech" because of his outstanding defensive abilities at first base, McCovey made a historic debut on July 30th, 1959 against the Phillies and future Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts. He went 4-4 with two triples, he instantly became a fan favorite in San Francisco en route to winning the 1959 Rookie of the Year Award. Imagine that, he played his first major league game on July 30th and ended up winning the Rookie of the Year award?

Fast forward 15 seasons, six all star games, and one MVP award later -- McCovey's Hall of Fame career was starting to wind down. Following the 1973 season, the financially challenged Giants dealt McCovey to the expansion San Diego Padres for a pitching prospect named Mike Caldwell. At the time, McCovey was still a productive player and he immediately became the first recognizable star in the Padres short history. McCovey played most of three seasons in San Diego and hit 52 of his career 521 home runs and two of his NL record 18 grand slams while wearing the brown and gold. Creating a Willie FF/SP card with a Padres uniform would be redundant and I could never hope to match the incredible airbrushing expertise by Topps (cough, cough, cough).

Near the end of the 1976 season the Padres returned Stretch to the Bay Area, selling him to the hated cross-town Oakland Athletics. That strange marriage would not last long as he would only play in 11 games for the A's and was released at the end of the season.

Looking for work for the first time since 1955, McCovey was invited by new Giants ownership to make the team at spring training camp in 1977. He responded with a 28-homer, 86-RBI comeback at the age of 39. He played the final three and half seasons back home in San Francisco and hit his 500th home run in 1978. His final home run (# 521) came on May 3rd, 1980 - it tied him with Ted Williams at #10 on the all time list. He also joined Williams on the list of big leaguers (Ricky Henderson and Omar Vizquel were added later) who had homered in four different decades. He played his last game two months later and retired to make way for a new Giants phenom named Rich Murray during the All Star break of the 1980 season.

In 1986 Willie McCovey became the 16th player elected to Hall of Fame in his 1st year of eligibility.


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