COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – His power was so prodigious that he led the National League in intentional walks four times, and still ranks No. 3 all-time in the category.
But all those walks didn’t prevent Willie McCovey from hitting 521 career home runs. And 35 years ago this week, McCovey broke new ground for power hitters when he hit two home runs in one inning – becoming the first player in history to accomplish the feat twice.
“If you pitch to him, he’ll ruin baseball,” said Hall of Famer manager Sparky Anderson, whose Cincinnati Reds were victimized by McCovey on June 27, 1977. “He’d hit 80 home runs.”
At 39, McCovey was in the twilight of his career in 1977, but experienced a resurgence that summer when he returned to the Giants – with whom he spent his first 15 big league campaigns – after three seasons with the Padres and the A’s. McCovey finished that year with 28 homers and 86 RBI, finishing 20th in the National League Most Valuable Player Award voting.
In his memorable day against the Reds in Cincinnati, McCovey hit a solo home run off Jack Billingham in the sixth inning to cut the Reds’ lead to 8-5. Then, after the Giants chased Billingham en route to five more runs, McCovey came up against Joe Hoerner – Cincinnati’s third pitcher of the inning – and blasted a grand slam to put the Giants up 13-8.
McCovey’s first two-homer inning came on April 12, 1973 against the Astros, when he led off the fourth inning with a home run against Ken Forsch and followed with a three-run shot off reliever Jim Crawford. This two-homer inning was the first in the National League in almost 24 years since Sid Gordon of the Giants connected twice on July 31 1949.
In all, the two-homers-in-one-inning feat has been accomplished at little more than four dozen times in big league history. But McCovey – despite the caution managers always displayed with him in the lineup – was the first to achieve an encore performance.
“He did it all despite arthritic knees, a troublesome hip, aching feet and assorted other ailments,” said Nick Peters, who received the Baseball Writers’ Association of America’s J.G. Taylor Spink Award for meritorious contributions to baseball writing in 2009. “He did it in the Candlestick Park cold and despite more intentional walks than any player of his era.”
McCovey retired following the 1980 season with 521 home runs, 1,555 RBI and 1,345 walks – 260 of which were intentional.
He was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility in 1986.
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum