Willie McCovey, a former first baseman for the San Francisco Giants, died on Wednesday, the team confirms. He was 80.
Willie, a baseball Hall of Famer, was struggling with “ongoing health issues” at the time of his death. He was surrounded by family and friends and listening to his favorite sports channel when he passed away peacefully, his daughter Allison McCovey said.
Following the sports legend’s death, Giants President & Chief Executive Officer Laurence M. Baer released a statement on behalf of the “broken” baseball community.
“San Francisco and the entire baseball community lost a true gentleman and legend, and our collective hearts are broken,” Baer wrote. “Willie was a beloved figure throughout his playing days and in retirement. He will be deeply missed by the many people he touched.”
“For more than six decades, he gave his heart and soul to the Giants — as one of the greatest players of all time, as a quiet leader in the clubhouse, as a mentor to the Giants who followed in his footsteps, as an inspiration to our Junior Giants, and as a fan cheering on the team from his booth,” Baer added.
“Willie’s greatest passion was his family,” he continued. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his beloved wife, Estella, and his daughter, Allison, and her children Raven, Philip, and Marissa.”
Willie is also survived by his sister Frances and his brothers, Clauzell and Cleon, the Giants reported.
In addition to statements from Baer and Willie’s daughter, his wife Estella also spoke publicly about the loss of her husband and explained how her life is now forever changed.
“Every moment he will be terribly missed,” she said. “He was my best friend and husband. Living life without him will never be the same.”
Willie turned heads from the very first day he stepped onto the professional diamond.
In his Major League rookie debut on July 30, 1959, the athlete gave Hall of Famer Robin Roberts a run for his money when he hit two triples and two singles off the pitcher, according to the Giants. He later went on to win National League Rookie of the Year and National League Most Valuable Player in 1969.
In 1973, Willie was traded from the Giants to the San Diego Padres. He also temporarily played for the Oakland Athletics before returning to San Francisco for his final seasons as a professional player, the Giants said.
Both the Padres and Athletics also paid tribute to their former player on social media after his passing.
Willie — who was nicknamed “Stretch” for his 6-foot-4 stature — eventually retired in 1980, the Giants said.
Throughout his 22-year career, he gained several accolades, including a six-time MLB All-Star, a three-time National League home-run leader, and two-time National League RBI leader, according to the team.
For the latter two, he became just the fifth player in MLB history to earn those consecutive titles.
Six years after his retirement, Willie was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Despite giving up the sport physically, he remained close to the diamond and spent the last 18 years of his life working as a senior advisor to the Giants.
His dedication to the team was also reciprocated, with a statue of Willie going up across from AT&T Park in 2003 and a part of the San Francisco Bay behind right field at the Giants’ stadium being named “McCovey Cove,” according to the team.
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In addition, the Giants have given out a Willie Mac Award since 1980, which awards the person who “best exemplifies the spirit and leadership consistently shown by McCovey throughout his career.”
On Wednesday, the Giants paid tribute to the legend by flying their stadium flags at half-staff and shared a photo to Twitter.
A public celebration of Willie’s life is expected for a later date, the Giants said. Fans can send condolence letters to McCovey family care of San Francisco Giants, attention Forever 44, 24 Willie Mays Plaza, San Francisco, CA 94107 or send emails to Forever44@sfgiants.com.