Willie McCovey dies at 80 after Hall of Fame career with San Francisco Giants

The Giants on Wednesday announced that franchise legend and Hall of Fame first baseman Willie McCovey has died at the age of 80. According to the club, McCovey passed away after "losing his battle with ongoing health issues."

McCovey starting in 1959 as a 21-year-old spent 22 seasons in the major leagues. All but three of those came with the San Francisco Giants. Along the way, McCovey tallied 521 home runs; 1,555 RBI; 1,229 runs; 2,211 hits; and 1,345 walks (260 of which were intentional). McCovey also boasted a career line of .270/.374/.515 (147 OPS+) with a career WAR of 64.5. McCovey made the All-Star team six times and won the NL MVP Award in 1969. All those aforementioned intentional walks speak to his standing as one of the most feared left-handed hitters of all-time.

McCovey was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1986. 

Nicknamed "Stretch" for his long frame and lunging scoops and snares at first base, McCovey grew up in Mobile, Ala. and was originally signed by the Giants out of a tryout camp in Florida. The hard-hitting youngster -- once dismissed because he struck out too much and had only one position -- cut a swath through the minors and by late July of 1959 was in the bigs for good. In his MLB debut, McCovey opposed future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts and went 4 for 4 with a pair of triples. 

From 1968-70, McCovey peaked as the best hitter in baseball. Over that three-year span, he racked up 120 home runs and 330 walks and authored an OPS+ of 188, all while pitchers were otherwise lording over the game. Years later McCovey would be traded to the Padres and then be purchased by the Athletics before ending his career back in a Giants uniform. 

His fearsome excellence on the field combined with his consistently affable nature off it made him not only one of the best players in franchise history but also one of the most beloved. In a testament to all of that -- in particular his left-handed power stroke -- the Giants named the inlet beyond right field "McCovey Cove."

Fellow Giants legend Barry Bonds posted a tribute to McCovey on his Instagram. "Uncle Mac, thank you for your mentorship and unconditional love for me and my family. You will be dearly missed," Bonds wrote.

View this post on Instagram

I HEAR YOU. Mac, I am crying over losing you even when you told me not to. I remember asking you what I would do without all of you around. You told me when that day comes - and it will one day - to keep the tradition of Giants baseball living forever. You told me to help the next generation of ball players get better. You told me to be thankful that we had so much time to spend together and talk about the love we have for the game, San Francisco, the Giants and for each other. You wanted me to be happy that we had a love and friendship that will never disappear and will be in our hearts forever. Uncle Mac thank you for your mentorship and unconditional love for me and my family. You will be dearly missed. Rest in peace, Uncle Willie McCovey. I love you.

A post shared by Barry L Bonds (@blbonds25) on

View this post on Instagram

I HEAR YOU. Mac, I am crying over losing you even when you told me not to. I remember asking you what I would do without all of you around. You told me when that day comes - and it will one day - to keep the tradition of Giants baseball living forever. You told me to help the next generation of ball players get better. You told me to be thankful that we had so much time to spend together and talk about the love we have for the game, San Francisco, the Giants and for each other. You wanted me to be happy that we had a love and friendship that will never disappear and will be in our hearts forever. Uncle Mac thank you for your mentorship and unconditional love for me and my family. You will be dearly missed. Rest in peace, Uncle Willie McCovey. I love you.

A post shared by Barry L Bonds (@blbonds25) on

In retirement, McCovey filled a variety of roles for the team and was a reliable presence at Giants games despite being confined to a wheelchair for many of his latter years. He'll rightly be remembered as one of baseball's greatest hitters and most adored figures.

CBS Sports Writer

Dayn Perry has been a baseball writer for CBS Sports since early 2012. Prior to that, he wrote for FOXSports.com and ESPN.com. He's the author of three books, the most recent being Reggie Jackson: The... Full Bio

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