Generally speaking, bodies of water are named after large geographic regions, famous explorers or historical events of significance. Every once in a while, they name one after a prolific power hitter who symbolized the majestic feat of sending a baseball over a wall, an arcade, and pavilion before it comes to rest in the what is now commonly referred to as “McCovey Cove.”
A member of the 500 home run club, one can only daydream about how many of McCovey’s long balls would have splashed into the bay. When he retired, he was also the active leader for intentional walks as well – a hitter who was feared during an era when pitchers rarely backed down from a challenge.
He didn’t win a World Series, but came tantalizingly close. On October 16, 1962, with two on in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7, he smacked a hard line drive toward right field but it sank into the glove of Yankees second baseman Bobby Richardson, a moment still discussed today.
“Stretch” has several iconic baseball cards that span his career, but we’ve picked five that truly embody his prowess as a power hitter, his Hall of Fame status and place in history.
1. 1960 Topps “All-Star Rookie” RC #316
While McCovey’s first year with San Francisco was 1959, Topps didn’t issue a card featuring him until 1960 with the “All-Star Rookie” edition. This card features a unique design where Topps used half of the card to display McCovey in his stance, while the other half displays the early version of the “Rookie Cup” logo Topps used for the best rookie at each position.
The back of the card also chronicles the incredible rookie season McCovey had in 1959, pointing out his debut on July 30th, 1959, which featured a 4-for-4 performance by McCovey against the Phillies’ Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. As fate would have it, the Phillies were also the same team that ended McCovey’s 22-game rookie hitting streak more than a month later.
For the season, McCovey hit .354 with 13 home runs and 38 RBI in his rookie year with San Francisco, in only 192 at-bats. Despite having roughly a half-season’s worth of at-bats, McCovey was still voted as the National League Rookie of the Year. His 1960 Topps card is one any McCovey collector can appreciate because of its colorful and creative design that is coupled with the commemoration of one of the best rookie seasons by a first baseman in the last century.
2. 1964 Topps “NL Home Run Leaders” #9
Murderer’s Row is remembered as one of the all-time great baseball lineups, but a quick glance at the 1964 Topps “National League Home Run Leaders” card suggests they may have had a close cousin in San Francisco. It commemorates the 1963 season, one where McCovey tied Hank Aaron with 44 home runs to lead the National League.
Not far behind was Willie Mays with 38, and Orlando Cepeda with 34. No other player in the National League had more than 30 that season, and three of the four were in San Francisco’s lineup.
The card also features four Hall of Famers, and is a symbol of both McCovey’s success early in his career with the Giants and how imposing San Francisco’s lineup was in the 1960s.
3. 1967 Topps “Fence Busters” with Willie Mays #423
After Orlando Cepeda was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals, the middle of the San Francisco lineup was dominated by Mays and McCovey. The 1967 Topps “Fence Busters” card shows this fearsome duo together and the back of the card reiterates their presence.
Aside from the clever cartoons found on the back of many vintage baseball cards, one can’t help but admire the writers of the time who put so much personality into their player descriptions. This card embodies that perfectly, reading “These two ballplayers can give any pitcher ‘The Willies.’” Both a comedic and effective way of conveying Mays and McCovey’s impact in the San Francisco lineup.
4. 1970 Topps #250
McCovey took home the National League MVP and player of the year award in 1969. His 1970 Topps card highlights this, but also points out that it was the second year in a row that McCovey had led the National League in home runs and RBI.
1970 would also mark another historic season for McCovey, as he would pace the Giants in doubles, home runs and RBI. All told, McCovey would finish with 39 home runs and 126 RBI in 1970.
This was the third year in a row that McCovey surpassed the 35 home runs and 120 RBI for the season, which could be considered the prime of his career statistically speaking.
4. 1974 Topps “Error” Washington/Nat’l Lea. #250
McCovey stared and ended his career in a San Francisco uniform, but did have a short stint in San Diego that was at first erroneously commemorated by Topps in 1974.
The error card features “Washington” as the team portrayed in the banner logo, and also displays a strange abbreviation of National League which is condensed to “Nat’l Lea.” to fit the banner in the lower right portion of the card. Topps essentially had jumped the gun on the possible relocation of the Giants franchise in the winter of 1973-74. They had to backtrack when the move fell through and correct several cards of Padres players who got the “Washington” tag.
1974 marked the first card issued of McCovey not in a Giants uniform, and is a relatively affordable error card of a Hall of Famer. He also had an 11-game stint with the Athletics that is easily forgotten. After hitting barely above .200 for San Diego, McCovey only hit .208 during the audition with Oakland. With most thinking his career was winding down, McCovey came back to San Francisco and hit 28 home runs at age 39 in 1977.