Willie McCovey: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Willie McCovey

McCovey at a pregame ceremony honoring 2012 NL MVP Buster Posey in April 2013 (Getty)

Tuesday afternoon it was announced by the White House that 209 people would be issued grants of commutation by President Barack Obama, with one of those individuals being Baseball Hall of Famer Willie McCovey. McCovey, who played 22 seasons in the majors with most of his time being spent with the San Francisco Giants, was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986.

McCovey pleaded guilty to tax evasion in 1995, which resulted in his serving two years probation and paying a fine of $5,000. Here’s what you need to know about McCovey and the circumstances that led to his guilty plea.

1. McCovey Faced Up To Seven Months in Jail for Tax Evasion in 1995

Willie McCovey

McCovey leaving Brooklyn Federal Court in July 1995 (Henry Ray Abrams/AFP/Getty)

McCovey pleaded guilty to charges of tax evasion in July 1995, with a July 1989 memorabilia show in Atlantic City being the event that sparked a federal investigation. As part of his guilty plea McCovey admitted to receiving $33,000 to appear at the show, which according to the New York Times included 11 players (including McCovey) who hit at least 500 home runs in their major league careers. In total, McCovey admitted to not reporting more than $70,000 earned from appearing at such shows over a three-year period from 1988-90.

With his decision to not sign a cooperation agreement, McCovey faced anywhere from one to seven months in prison as a result of his guilty plea. He would ultimately be sentenced to two years probation and a fine of $5,000, in addition to the money he had to pay to make things right with the Internal Revenue Service.

2. McCovey Was One of Two to Plead Guilty in the Case

Duke Snider

Former Los Angeles Dodgers great Duke Snider (Getty)

Former Brooklyn Dodger Duke Snider also entered guilty please for failing to report income gained from appearing at card shows and signing autographs. According to the New York Times Snider conspired with the promoters of a 1989 sports memorabilia show in Atlantic City to not report a $10,000 payment for his appearance. In total Snider, who signed a cooperation agreement prior to the guilty plea, admitted to not reporting more than $100,000 earned in memorabilia show appearances over a nine-year period that ran from 1984-93.

Snider, who was sentenced before McCovey, was sentenced to two years probation and a $5,000. Like McCovey, Snider also had to repay the IRS with his lawyers at the time estimating that he’d paid nearly $30,000 pre-sentencing and would have to pay another $27,000 in interest and penalties.

3. McCovey Played 19 of his 22 Major League Seasons in San Francisco

McCovey, who played most of his career at first base with stints in left and right field as well, made his major league debut with the Giants in 1959. Known as “Stretch,” the 6-foot-4 McCovey hit .354 with 13 home runs and 38 runs batted in as a rookie and won National League Rookie of the Year honors as a result. McCovey would have to wait until the 1963 season to make the first of his six All-Star Game appearances, a season in which he hit an NL-best 44 home runs and drove in 102 runs.

McCovey’s best three-year run occurred from 1968-70, a period in which he led the NL in both home runs and RBI’s twice (1968 and 1969) and won his lone NL MVP award (1969). McCovey played in four straight All-Star games from 1968-71. In October 1973 the Giants traded McCovey to the San Diego Padres, where he played two-plus seasons before his contract was solid to the Oakland Athletics during the 1976 season. McCovey would return to San Francisco for the 1977 season, where he played the final four seasons of his career.

McCovey would be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility, 1986.

4. McCovey Finished His Career with 521 Home Runs

McCovey is currently tied for 20th on the Major League Baseball career home runs list, with Frank Thomas and Ted Williams also hitting 521 home runs in their respective Hall of Fame careers. The home run list is currently led by Barry Bonds, whose father Bobby and godfather Willie Mays were teammates of McCovey’s with the Giants. And while the growing influence of analytics has impacted the way in which modern-day defenses shift in order to deal with hitters, the shift was also something that McCovey had to deal with during his career.

Some teams would move their third baseman into the outfield when McCovey went up to bat, playing with four outfielders and essentially conceding a single to the left side of the infield. Coincidentally Williams, who as mentioned above also hit 521 career home runs, would be the first to have such a shift used against him by an opposing manager with Chicago White Sox manager Jimmy Dykes doing so in 1941. Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau would also employ a shift against Williams, who went on to hit .406 in 1941.

5. The Giants Have Honored McCovey in Multiple Ways Since His Retirement

Willie McCovey Barry Bonds

McCovey with Barry Bonds in May 2001 (John G. Mabanglo/AFP/Getty)

Currently 79 years of age, the Mobile, Alabama native has been honored by the franchise for which he played most of his career on multiple occasions. The cove outside of the right field wall at AT&T Park is named in his honor, and the team annually presents the Willie Mac Award to the player deemed most inspirational by his teammates, coaches and Giants staff. In 2016 the award, which was first awarded in 1980, was shared by Brandon Crawford and Javier Lopez.

McCovey has dealt with various health issues in recent years, including a knee issue that required surgery in 2010 and an infection that resulted in his being hospitalized for nearly a month in the fall of 2014.