Forgotten Friars: Willie McCovey


After 15 years, 413 home runs, an MVP award, and many other accolades, the San Diego Padres had themselves a brand new first baseman. On October 25th, 1973, Willie McCovey, along with Bernie Williams, no, not THAT Bernie Williams, was dealt to the Friars in exchange for Mike Caldwell. The second half of a Hall of Fame duo with the Say Hey Kid, was the run producer the Padres had been searching for since their inception in 1969. 

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The original “Big Mac” did not disappoint either. playing in 128 games, hitting 22 home runs and driving in 63. It wasn’t enough to lift the Padres out of the NL Western Division’s basement, as the Friars lost 102 games under John McNamara, but McCovey became a draw, even at the age of 36. He, along with young future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, were the only Padres to top the 20 home run mark in 1974.

McCovey had a second solid year in San Diego in 1975, hitting .252 with 26 home runs and 68 RBI, but the Padres remained a dumpster fire, improving to only 71-91. At the tender age of 37, McCovey led this band of misfits in both home runs and runs batted in.

The following season, in 1976, it appeared that Father Time had finally caught up to McCovey, as he struggled to replicate the numbers he had put up during his first two seasons in San Diego. By the end of August of that year, the Padres were once again going nowhere, and were looking to trim the fat and give some younger players an opportunity to play in September. This marked the end of the road for McCovey in the brown and gold. After hitting only .203 in 71 games, along with 7 home runs and 36 driven in, the Padres gave McCovey his unconditional release on August 30th.

He would soon sign with Oakland, where he would play in only 11 games in the green and gold before being granted free agency at the end of the 1976 season.

Big Mac showed the baseball world that age is only a number, and at the age of 39, he returned home to his beloved San Francisco Giants, where he, like every great fighter, had one last great fight left in him. In 1977, McCovey would hit .280 with 28 home runs and 86 RBI, to win the National League Comeback Player of the Year Award, while playing in 141 games.

The highlight of that season, came on June 27th, against the Cincinnati Reds. McCovey became the first player in big league history to hit two home runs in one inning, twice, with the first occurrence happening back in 1973. He would go on to have two more solid seasons with the Giants, putting up double-digit home runs in each, before retiring in 1980 at the age of 42, after only playing in 27 games.

While McCovey might not be considered one of the all-time great Padres, he is a true Hall of Famer, and during most of his tenure in San Diego, he led by example both on and off the field, showing young players such as Winfield, how to prepare each day and what it took to last in the big leagues for more than 22 seasons.