On This Date in Sports June 30, 1978: McCovey #500

In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com

Willie McCovey of the San Francisco Giants becomes the 12th player to hit 500 career home runs. The milestone home run comes in the second inning against Jamie Easterly of the Atlanta Braves at Fulton County Stadium. It comes in the first game of a doubleheader, in which the Giants lose both ends by scores of 10-9 and 10-5. McCovey would retire in 1980 with 521 career dingers.

Willie McCovey was born January 10, 1938, in Mobile, Alabama. Despite being passed over by the Negro Leagues, the tall lanky first baseman caught the eye of the scouts for the New York Giants in 1955 as he made his debut for the Giants’ Georgia League team in Sandersville at the age of 17.

Over the next four years, McCovey slowly climbed the Giants system, making his debut with the San Francisco Giants on July 30, 1959. In his first game, McCovey went 4-for-4 against Robin Roberts a future Hall of Famer for the Philadelphia Phillies. Despite playing just 52 games in 1959, Willie McCovey was named National League Rookie of the Year.

Through the 1960s Willie McCovey was one of baseball’s top power hitters. Whereas Willie Mays came with the Giants from New York, McCovey was San Francisco’s own and thus became a fan favorite by the bay. Nicknamed “Stretch”, Willie McCovey won three home run titles in the sixties and the MVP in 1969.

The Giants traded Willie McCovey to the San Diego Padres in 1974. In parts of three seasons, he hit 52 home runs in parts of three seasons for the Padres, giving fans in San Diego their biggest name player they had over their first five seasons. After playing the final month of the 1976 season with the Oakland Athletics, McCovey returned to the San Francisco Giants as a free agent in 1977.

After having the worst season of his career in 1976, McCovey was once again among baseball’s top sluggers with 28 home runs in 1977 as he was named Comeback Player of the Year. With the 500 home run milestone in reach, Willie McCovey hit his seventh home run of the 1978 season in the second inning of a Friday Night doubleheader against the Atlanta Braves. The home run tied the game 1-1 at the time. McCovey would get two in two at-bats before being lifted for a pinch runner in the fourth inning. The Giants held a 6-1 lead but after back to back four run rallies by Atlanta, trailed 10-6. The Giants scored three times in the ninth but could not get the tying run, losing 10-9 to fall to 47-28 on the season. The nightcap would not go any better as the last place Braves won 10-5, improving to 31-43.

Willie McCovey hit his 521st and final home run in 1980 of Scott Sanderson of the Montreal Expos. He is one of four players to hit home runs in four decades, along with Ted Williams, Rickey Henderson and Omar Vizquel.