The baseball world is mourning the loss of all-time great Willie McCovey, who passed away from what is being reported as a “long battle with ongoing health issues,” on Wednesday afternoon, October 31. He was 80-years-old.
The San Francisco Chronicle reports that McCovey had been hospitalized at Stanford University Medical Center since late last week. As has occasionally been the case for the past several years, McCovey was rushed to receive medical care due to a serious infection. According to his daughter, Allison McCovey, the beloved slugger died in the company of family and friends, perhaps signifying that his loved ones gathered with some understanding that it would likely be his final physical relapse.
McCovey made headlines back in September when he was taken straight to the hospital immediately after attending the San Francisco Giants’ final home game of 2018. Up until his final appearance at AT&T Park, McCovey had grown to be a fixture with fans who at times got to meet him as he was escorted out of the suite from which he watched the games. It was in his final years that they came to know him and call him by his nickname, “Willie Mac,” as he was escorted around in the wheelchair that orthopedic procedures had relegated him to, according to Mercury News.
Prior to spending his final years at eye level with young idolizing fans, McCovey was remembered as a towering figure in the game. He was a 6-foot-4-inch-tall, 198-pound kid who broke into the Major Leagues as a power hitting first baseman in 1959. McCovey only played 52 games that season, but showed promise with a .354 batting average and 13 home runs in that span. Sports writers would apparently agree, as the numbers proved good enough for him to be rewarded the coveted National League Rookie of the Year award.
It is with great sadness that we announce that San Francisco Giants Legend and Hall of Famer Willie McCovey passed away peacefully this afternoon at the age of 80 after losing his battle with ongoing health issues. #Forever44 | #SFGiants pic.twitter.com/ooOYg4ESol
— San Francisco Giants (@SFGiants) October 31, 2018
It would be some years before McCovey fully matured as a hitter following his rookie campaign, but he’d come around to it before long, cranking 44 homers with 102 RBI in 1963. From that point on he went on a run that saw him post better than 30 round-trippers and 90 runs batted in all but one of the seven subsequent seasons. McCovey’s most successful span came between 1968 and 1970, over which period he completed each year with over 36 home runs and 100 RBI. His 45 bombs and 126 ribbies in 1969 would earn him the National League’s Most Valuable Player award.
By the time it was all said and done, McCovey had amassed 521 home runs to tie him with Ted Williams, which at the time of his retirement from the sport in 1980 statistically placed him among the top 10 home run hitters ever.
“San Francisco and the entire baseball community lost a true gentleman and legend, and our collective hearts are broken,” Giants president and CEO Larry Baer said in a statement that the organization issued shortly after receiving the news. “Willie was a beloved figure throughout his playing days and in retirement. He will be deeply missed by the many people he touched.”