Candidates for ‘Willie Mac’ Award abound
LOS ANGELES — Among the many great aspects of the “Willie Mac” Award is that, each year, the recipient is the man who should win. Examples include Ryan Vogelsong in 2011, when he completed his ascent from anonymity to All-Star; Buster Posey in 2012, advancing toward Most Valuable Player status one year after sustaining his horrific left leg injury; and Madison Bumgarner in 2014, when he won the “Willie Mac” vote even before he dominated the postseason.
It’s easy to explain the award’s legitimacy. Its primary electorate, consisting of Giants players and coaches, are keen judges of character and consistency. They invariably make the right choice in determining the club’s most inspirational player, which is a simplified definition of the honor that’s named for iconic first baseman Willie McCovey.
However, this year’s vote promises to be more intriguing than most, if only because there’s a relatively large number of Giants who could win. That reflects the volume of high-quality people on the roster.
Here’s an alphabetically ordered look at potential candidates to become the next Willie Mac winner, who will be named before the Friday, Oct. 2 game against Colorado at AT&T Park (previous winners are excluded, for simplicity’s sake):
Nori Aoki. He has remained productive while surviving two incidents of being hit by pitches, including a beaning. It’s extremely evident that he gets the most out of his ability.
Gregor Blanco. San Francisco’s fourth outfielder appears destined to record personal bests in several offensive categories. Meanwhile, he has remained humble, upbeat and confident, all McCoveyesque traits.
Santiago Casilla. Many fans dwell on what Casilla can’t do. The Giants focus more on what he CAN do — maintain a strong clubhouse presence and convert about 80 percent of his save opportunities.
Brandon Crawford. A “homegrown” organizational product, Crawford received the payoff for his ceaseless diligence by ascending to All-Star status this year. Besides, he grew up rooting for the Giants. Can you picture him wearing any other uniform?
Matt Duffy. Not only has he exceeded expectations while solidifying third base, but he’s also displaying Major League toughness by playing through the discomfort caused by a sprained right ankle. McCovey, who hit 521 home runs while fending off constant knee trouble, would approve.
Chris Heston. The right-hander has overcome bone spurs in his elbow and the indignity of being designated for assignment. Now, even without the no-hitter he threw at New York on June 9, he’d rank among the most indispensable members of the pitching staff.
George Kontos. A model of perseverance, Kontos is on the brink of finishing his first full big league season — and a successful one, at that — after dividing the previous four years between Triple-A and the Majors.
Javier Lopez. Off the field, he carries himself with dignity and behaves with class. On the field, he’s so proficient that nobody wants to face him. He’s another current Giant who matches McCovey’s description well.