McCovey’s 500th homer marks milestone for slugger
As he headed for home plate at Atlanta Stadium after hitting his 500th home run, Willie McCovey finally cracked a smile.
“That was the first time that the guys saw me smile going around the bases,” McCovey told the San Francisco Examiner.
It took longer than he expected, and McCovey had hoped to hit No. 500 at Candlestick Park. But the Giants’ legendary first baseman finally reached the coveted milestone on June 30, 1978, slugging an opposite field shot off Braves left-hander Jamie Easterly that tied the game at 1-1 in the top of the second.
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“I expected to have 500 long before I hit it,” McCovey said. “I kept saying all during Spring Training that I should hit seven before April’s over.”
Reaching the 500 mark landed McCovey among some of the game’s all-time greats. But as he reflected on the moment, the 500th homer landed no higher than fourth on the list of his most memorable home runs. When asked where it ranked, McCovey thought of three others that stuck out in his mind: His first big league homer, the one he hit in the 1962 World Series and the second of two he hit in one inning against Cincinnati in 1977.
“Right now, this is more like a release than a thrill,” McCovey said. “It’s not like all of a sudden you have 500 home runs. It happens slowly, and maybe it’s the kind of thing that takes time to sink in.”
Giants pitcher John Curtis retrieved the home run ball for his teammate. McCovey knew exactly what he wanted to do with it.
“I’m giving the ball to [Giants owner] Bob Lurie,” he said. “He’s the main reason I’m with the Giants. That’s the least I can do to show my appreciation.”
And Lurie planned to return the favor, calling the press box after the homer to say that he would present McCovey with a commemorative plaque at Candlestick Park the following Monday.
Lurie bought the team in 1976, while McCovey was with the San Diego Padres. After a brief stint with the Oakland Athletics, McCovey signed with San Francisco as a free agent in 1977, at nearly 39 years old.
It was a reunion for McCovey and the Giants, as the first baseman had spent the first 15 years of his career in San Francisco, winning the NL Rookie of the Year Award in 1959 and the NL MVP Award in 1969 and collecting six All-Star Game selections with the club.
In recording his 500th home run, McCovey was inching toward a number of other names in the all-time home run rankings that he would soon surpass, including Mel Ott at 511 and Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews at 512.
“I knew that if I was lucky enough to stay healthy and have a long career, I might be able to accomplish a few things,” McCovey said. “But I just don’t know how many more I can hit. I’ll take all I can get.”
McCovey would play two more seasons in the big leagues, finishing with a total of 521 career home runs. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1986.
Janey Murray was the digital content specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum