One of the most intimidating power hitters of his era, McCovey was called "the scariest hitter in baseball" by pitcher Bob Gibson, an assessment with which Reggie Jackson concurred. McCovey's powerful swing generated 521 home runs, 231 of which he hit in Candlestick Park, the most hit there by any player, and included a home run of September 16, 1966 described as the longest ever hit in that stadium.
Prior to playing for the San Francisco Giants, McCovey played for a Giants' farm club in Dallas, Texas that was part of the Class AA Southern League. In that league, he did not participate when his team played in Shreveport, Louisiana due to segregation in that city. He later played for the Pacific Coast LeaguePhoenix Giants just prior to joining the San Francisco Giants.
Three years later, he helped the Giants to the 1962 World Series against the New York Yankees. Perhaps McCovey's best-known moment in baseball came in the bottom of the 9th of Game 7, with 2 outs and the Giants trailing 1–0. With Willie Mays on second base and Matty Alou on third, any base hit would likely have won the championship for the Giants. McCovey scorched a hard line drive that was snared by the Yankees' second basemanBobby Richardson, ending the series with a Yankees' win. That would turn out to be the closest McCovey would get to playing on a world championship team.
McCovey spent many years at the heart of the Giants' batting order along with fellow Hall-of-Famer Willie Mays. His best year statistically was 1969 when he hit 45 home runs, had 126 RBI and batted .320 to become the National League MVP. He would also win NL Player of the Month awards in July 1963 (.310, 13 HR, 27 RBI) and August 1969 (.315, 8, 22 RBI)
In the early years of Candlestick Park, the Giants home stadium, the area behind right field was open except for three small bleacher sections. When McCovey came to bat, typically those bleachers would empty as the fans positioned themselves on the flat ground hoping to catch a McCovey home run ball – anticipating the gathering of boats in McCovey Cove, a generation later, when Barry Bonds would bat.
San Diego Padres and Oakland Athletics (1974–76)
In 1974, McCovey was traded to the San Diego Padres; without him, the Giants' fortunes declined. Near the end of the 1976 season, the Oakland Athletics purchased his contract, but he would only play eleven games for them.
Willie McCovey attempts to tag Cincinnati Reds' shortstop Dave Concepcion out at first base at McCovey's last game at Candlestick Park
McCovey returned to the Giants in 1977. With Hank Aaron and Frank Robinson having retired at the end of the 1976 season with 755 and 586 home runs respectively, McCovey began 1977 as the active home run leader with 465. That year, during a June 27 game against the Cincinnati Reds, he became the first player to hit two home runs in one inning twice in his career (the first was on April 12, 1973), a feat since accomplished by only Andre Dawson and Jeff King. One was a grand slam and he became the first National Leaguer to hit seventeen. At age 39, he had 28 home runs and 86 RBI and was named the Comeback Player of the Year.
McCovey was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986. It was his first year of eligibility and he appeared on 346 of 425 ballots cast (81.4 percent). In 1999, he ranked 56th on The Sporting News' list of the 100 Greatest Baseball Players, and was nominated as a finalist for the Major League Baseball All-Century Team. Since 1980, the Giants have awarded the Willie Mac Award to honor his spirit and leadership. The inlet of San Francisco Bay beyond the right field fence of AT&T Park, historically known as China Basin, has been redubbed McCovey Cove in his honor. Across McCovey Cove from the park a statue of McCovey was erected and the land on which it stands named McCovey Point. The Giants retired his uniform number 44 on September 21, 1980, which he wore in honor of Hank Aaron, a fellow Mobile, Alabama native.
McCovey was inducted to the Afro Sports Hall of Fame, February 7, 2009 in Oakland, California.