Friday, September 30, 2011

#250 - Willie McCovey

For the last double card post in a while we get a Hall of Famer. Willie McCovey gets a double card since he is airbrushed into his new team for '74 , the Padres. It's not a particularly great job but at least Willie's smiling. This would be two Traded cards in a row but that might have been a bit much - two Traded cards (a Washington and San Diego one) and a regular Giants card? It would have been nicer I think to do the Beckert thing and just have Willie in his old uniform with the Padres heading. The Washington card is the first one I purchased just for this blog since it had eluded me before.

Willie gets a serious card number in this set and while in some ways his numbers for '73 may seem undeserving, there were some special considerations. He crossed the 400 line in career homers. He had a pretty big comeback season, boosting his average by 50 points and more than doubling his homer and RBI totals from an injury-plagued '72. It was also his last year - for a while at least - as a Giant. So the honor was probably fitting.

Like some fellow HOF guys and other players in this set - Aaron, Otis, and Cleon Jones - Willie McCovey came out of Mobile, Alabama and was signed by the Giants in '55 when he was 17. In Class D ball that year he smoked pitchers for a .305 average and 117 RBI's in 107 games. After a '56 in B ball where he hit .310 with 91 RBI's he jumped the next season to Double A where he slowed a bit to .281 but still moved up to spend '58 and the first part of '59 at Triple A where he hit .372 with 29 homers and 92 RBI's in only 349 at bats the second season. He came up to San Francisco that July 30, got four hits in his debut against Robin Roberts, and won NL Rookie of the Year with a .354 average in 52 games. Willie, a first baseman, had a little competition ahead of him there in the form of the prior season's ROY Orlando Cepeda. In '60 Cepeda got moved to the outfield to make some room for Willie who returned to post the classic sophomore jinx season, his average dropping over 100 points as his weight ballooned from all the banquets he attended in his rookie year honor. While things picked up a bit in '61 Willie still wouldn't see a full season of playing time until '63 after he posted a pretty impressive half-season the prior year when he began to pick up some outfield time. A lefty, he was platooned that season and would famously hit into the last out of that year's Series. But in '63 now a more-or-less full-time outfielder, he recorded his first big power year with 44 homers and over 100 RBIs. After an off '64 when he had his first knee problems, he returned in '65 to recapture first in the wake of Cepeda's trade to the Cards. That year he recorded the first of what would be six successive years of over 30 homers. He wouldn't break the 100 mark in ribbies again until '68 when he had a great season in a tough year to do so for hitters. It was a nice prelude to his MVP season of '69 when on top of his listed stats he posted an OBA of .453 which was insane back then. His '70 was nearly as good but it would be his last full season for a while as knee and foot problems started keeping him out of the lineup. '71 was pretty good for roughly half a season and he kicked butt in the playoffs against Pittsburgh - .429 with two homers and six RBIs in four games - but '72 was a disaster and although the '73 rebound was nice, Willie, who was 35, was sent to the Padres for Mike Caldwell as the Giants pursued a younger team, also dumping Juan Marichal.

For San Diego McCovey took over first base from Nate Colbert and put up stats his first two seasons that happily resembled '73 more than they did '72. He averaged .253 with 23 homers and 65 RBI's. But in '75 his walk totals came in pretty hard and his OBA dropped from .416 to .345, setting the stage for a pretty awful '76. Willie's knees were a mess, he lost starting time to Mike Ivie, and late in the season he was sold to the A's to help down the stretch. But after hitting .208 with zero RBIs in a few games, he wasn't re-signed and he returned to the Giants as a free agent. After off-season surgery he was expected to ramp things up a bit but the year he had exceeded all expectations: .280 with 28 homers, 86 RBIs, and a .367 OBA that won him the NL Comeback Player of the Year. In his 40's Willie did the slow ease, recording his 500th homer in '78 and playing things out in '80, thereby extending his career to four decades. He finished with a .270 average, 521 homers, 1,555 RBIs, a .370 OBA, and six All-Star appearances. In the post-season he hit .310 with three homers and seven RBIs in eight games. He was elected to the Hall in '86. After playing he settled into admin roles for the Giants, played some golf, and had a million knee operations. He has been getting around mostly by wheelchair the past few years and in '03 opened a restaurant in California that has been quite successful. He has a statue at the new stadium and of course, McCovey's Cove, where Barry Bonds has hit tons of homers.

Willie's card revives the little traded print. He only has room for some brief star bullets but they're awfully good ones.

This one is easier than I thought it would be:

1. McCovey and Vic Harris '77 to '78 Giants;
2. Harris and George Mitterwald '74 to '75 Cubs.

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