Q&A with Hall of Famer Willie McCovey
Hall of Fame President Jeff Idelson had a chance to have lunch with Willie McCovey in San Francisco the week after the Giants' 2014 World Series win - their third title in five years. The Hall of Fame first baseman and beloved San Francisco legend was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986 following a career where he hit 521 home runs – ninth all-time at the time of his retirement and still tied for 18th overall. Born Jan. 10, 1938 in Mobile, Ala., Willie Lee McCovey burst onto the national scene in 1959, winning the National League Rookie of the Year Award after hitting .354 with 13 home runs in just 52 games. By 1963, McCovey was the NL home run champ and quickly became one of the most feared hitters in the game. He was the NL Most Valuable Player in 1969, and from 1969-70 was issued an incredible 85 intentional walks. His 45 intentional walks in 1969 are the most in one season by any player other than Barry Bonds in big league history. A quick “nine” around the diamond from Hall of Famer Willie McCovey.
Were you nervous about your Induction Speech in 1986?
"A little bit. It went ok though. My mom, a sister and a brother were there, along with so many friends from Mobile. And when you play in the minor leagues you live with families. I brought all of my minor league moms to Cooperstown too. They all got along with my real mom well."
Which pitcher on your staffs had the greatest pickoff move?
"Marichal. No question."
What road ballpark did you like to hit in?
"Wrigley might have been favorite, because of day baseball. I could see the ball really well. Ernie Banks said to me, 'Willie, if you played here you'd hit 80 home runs a year.'"
Who was your roommate?
"Mostly Jimmy Ray Hart. I roomed with Mays a few times too, I even went with Willie on his first date with his future wife Mae, in Philly."
Hunter Pence donated a bat he used during the World Series. What do you think of him?
"I love watching Hunter play because he always plays, and he always plays hard. Always. His speed is something else. I don't know of any other right-handed hitters who can hit a slow roller to shortstop and beat it out. Mantle was fast, but how Hunter can run is amazing. He is also a great inspiration to the team. He really keeps them loose."
What did you take away from Madison Bumgarner in Game 7?
"I have never seen anything like that. Not only did he pitch in relief but he threw five innings! It was old school, like Rollie Fingers era. You know, a four or five-inning save. That doesn't happen anymore. No one could have done what he did. What impressed me most about his whole postseason was he never had a blow-up inning. That’s impressive."
How about the controversy of whether Alex Gordon should have tried to score on his 9th inning hit in Game 7?
"(With a chuckle) Arm chair managing. I love it. In 1962, after we lost Game 7, 1-0, writers were saying that Matty (Alou) should have scored on Mays' double to right field. Now remember, I was up next and Cepeda was behind me. Meanwhile, Maris, who had a fantastic arm, made a great play in right and made a perfect relay to Richardson. Matty would have been out by a mile. I hit a rocket, but unfortunately, right at Bobby."
Looking at Bruce Bochy winning his third World Series, and seeing the success of Torre and Scioscia as of late, it seems as if catchers tend to make excellent managers.
"They do. And don't forget Mike Matheny, who is a first class guy. He might be one of the nicest people I know. All class. When he was with us he won the Willie Mac Award."
Do you keep in touch with your fellow Mobilians in the Hall of Fame, Henry (Aaron), Billy (Williams) and Ozzie (Smith)?
"Oh yes. I have always enjoyed seeing them in Cooperstown. And I can always count on a Christmas Card from Billy and Shirley. Just like clockwork."
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