The Giants hosted a celebration of McCoveys life on Thursday at AT&T Park, prompting a couple thousand fans and a wide array of ballplayers to show up in tribute. McCovey died on Oct. 31 at age 80.
Video: Krukow gets emotional during speech at Willie McCovey memorial
Kyle Lowry promises not to get too emotional when DeRozan and Casey return to Toronto
The variety of players attending the 2-hour function reflected the breadth and depth of McCoveys 19-year Giants career. Those paying tribute ranged from the obscure (pitchers Rich Robertson and Don Carrithers) to the legendary (Willie Mays, Barry Bonds, Orlando Cepeda and Gaylord Perry). Right-hander Jim Barr, whom McCovey called one of his favorite pitchers to play behind, was deservedly present.
For each Giant of recent vintage who showed, such as outfielder Randy Winn and current manager Bruce Bochy, there were older ones, including infielder Tito Fuentes, outfielder Felipe Alou and right-hander Bill Laskey, all of whom wanted to pay their respects.
Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa, intense rivals as managers, shared common ground on this particular day.
Then there was an exclusive group of Giants, the winners of the “Willie Mac” award, given annually to the player deemed most inspirational. Representing this cadre were outfielders Jack Clark (1980), Mike Felder (92) and Marvin Benard (99); left-hander Dave Dravecky (89); utility man Shawon Dunston (96), and catchers Buster Posey (2012) and Nick Hundley (17).
Felder wore a windbreaker given exclusively to Willie Mac winners (it sports a tiny rendering of McCovey finishing his powerful swing). Touchingly, he also clutched his Willie Mac award plaque, his way of reciprocating the honor bestowed upon him.
“Today was all about celebrating Willie McCoveys life,” Felder said. “What better way than to come with the plaque we receive in the presentation of the award and dressed in one of the jackets that we receive?”
Murph: 38 years later, Willie McCovey made a fan base weep again
Right-hander Mike Krukow told a hilarious story about yielding a grand slam to McCovey. Unfortunately for McCovey, the first-base umpire stumbled and didnt locate the ball until it landed in foul territory — moments after clearly traveling inside the right-field foul pole.
The other Willie and the early San Francisco Giants
Bonds, baseballs all-time career home run leader with 762, recalled asking McCovey if he could call him “Uncle Willie,” owing to his respect for his predecessor as San Franciscos pre-eminent left-handed slugger. Of course, McCovey granted his wish.
Joe Amalfitano, a special assistant in player development for the Giants and a former infielder who played with McCovey in the Minor Leagues, spoke admiringly of the “love affair” the first baseman had with the city of San Francisco. McCoveys impressive array of statistics said nothing about the mutual adoration.
Remembrances of Willie McCovey
Chris Haft has covered the Giants since 2005, and for MLB.com since 2007. Follow him on Twitter at @sfgiantsbeat and listen to his podcast.
When Barry Bonds came home to San Francisco to sign with the Giants, he had one request for the player he grew up admiring. And it wasnt for Willie Mays, his godfather, who perhaps has been his biggest inspiration aside from his father, Bobby.
“I go back with Mac as a little boy as much as I go back with Willie Mays,” Bonds said Thursday at AT&T Park during McCoveys celebration of life. “I idolized Willie Mays, but I was born left-handed and my first glove was a first basemans glove. As much as I always wanted to be like Say Hey, I always had to stretch like Mac.
“My father and McCovey were great friends. Mac loved our family unconditionally. And in 1993, when I came back to San Francisco, I asked Mac if I could call him Uncle Mac, because Ive always admired him and hes always taught me the game of baseball as much as Willie [Mays] and my father have. Mac said, I wouldnt want anything more than for you to call me Uncle Mac. “
Bonds, who acknowledged how rarely he publicly speaks at events, then spoke on the day the Giants forever honored him by retiring his jersey number, just like the franchise did in the past for Mays and McCovey.
“I also want to thank the Giants organization for allowing Mac to be here to have my number retired and my uncle was here,” Bonds said before stepping aside to hold back tears. “I appreciate that a lot.”
The two sluggers always will go down as some of the greatest Giants ever and the greatest power hitters the game has seen, period. An aspect of AT&T Park has their power forever remembered.
“I want to thank you Mac because were connected,” Bonds said. “I want to thank the Giants for giving Mac that cove out there. And I want to thank Mac for letting me hit a bunch of baseballs in his cove.”
No better way to honor Willie McCovey than with a bunch of Splash Hits #ForeverGiant pic.twitter.com/vcAk22lsie
AT&T Park opened for the 2000 season. Through 2018, there have been 78 splash hits with home runs smashed from Giants into the cove. Bonds alone has 35, easily the most by any Giant.
To close out his speech, Bonds went back to what McCovey, the Giants and all of San Francisco mean to him.
“Like I said, Im connected,” Bonds said. “Im connected in left field. My godfathers in center field. My fathers in right field. Macs at first base. Gaylord [Perry] is on the mound. Tito [Fuentes] at second base. Chris Speier at shortstop. I wish Jimmy Ray Hart was still around, hed be my third baseman. Dave Rader was catching at that time when I was a little boy.”