Results tagged ‘ Willie McCovey ’

Pondering ‘Willie Mac’ candidates

If you’re proud of your association with the Giants — whether you’re a player, club employee or fan — then Friday should be one of the biggest nights of the year.

Friday happens to be when the recipient of the “Willie Mac” Award, given annually to the most inspirational Giant, will be honored in a pregame ceremony. The award is named for Willie McCovey, who needs no introduction. Nor is it necessary to explain why the distinction was named for him. If you saw McCovey play and witnessed his grace, class and professionalism, or if you ever met him and realized that he possesses those same qualities off the field, you know that this isn’t any ordinary award and that Friday’s event isn’t just a routine observance.

The Giants have several worthy Willie Mac candidates this year, which helps explain why they’re destined for their first above-.500 finish since 2004. This is just my opinion, but I’d like to think others would share it. Here are the players who come to mind:

JUAN URIBE. Tales of his positive clubhouse influence followed him from Chicago, where the White Sox adored him. Uribe quickly began spreading that same good cheer among the Giants. Sometimes he has done it with the hearts games he led during Spring Training or his daily sessions of attack dominoes with Edgar Renteria, Brian Wilson and others. Sometimes he has done it with his veteran’s presence, such as when he went to the mound to counsel Jonathan Sanchez during a tight moment Wednesday night. Often he has done it simply through humor and remaining upbeat. Asked by one teammate if he ever felt down, Uribe’s response was, “Uribe’s never down.” And, of course, he has proven invaluable on the field.

BENGIE MOLINA. The Willie Mac winner in 2007-08 has remained a steady, calming influence. Pablo Sandoval admires him. Pitchers relish throwing to him. Every teammate appreciates his earnest, competitive spirit. It’s easy to say that the Giants shouldn’t re-sign Molina, who’s eligible for free agency, but they’ll miss a lot of his intangibles if they don’t. He’d be the award’s only three-time winner if he gets it again.

EDGAR RENTERIA. Since Renteria’s so quiet and unassuming, he tends to exercise his influence subtly or behind the scenes. He hasn’t delivered the offense the Giants sought when they signed him to a two-year, $18.5 million contract, but players, coaches and front-office members rave about his professionalism and impact on the team, particularly among the Giants’ younger Latin American players.

RANDY JOHNSON. Wednesday night’s telecast partially illustrated why Johnson’s on this list. There was, caught by the camera, filling Matt Cain’s ear with something. Whatever it was, it was valuable. The Giants’ pitchers have benefited immeasurably from having a 300-game winner and five-time Cy Young Award recipient in their midst who has been so willing to share his wisdom. “This is a guy we all look up to,” Barry Zito said. “I want to pattern myself after him in many ways.”

PABLO SANDOVAL. Why not? He plays hard, he’s always having fun and he’s the most effervescent Giant since Willie Mays circa 1951. Moreover, he has an appreciation for McCovey, as he revealed when he recorded his first “Splash Hit” home run on the 50th anniversary of Stretch’s Major League debut.

BARRY ZITO. This is Zito’s 10th year in the Majors, so he knows a little something about how to act as a big leaguer. He has disseminated his wisdom among younger players in tactful yet definitive fashion. Moreover, Zito has gained respect by improving his performance while ignoring the fan abuse he has prompted.

– Chris Haft

300-game winners awaken treasured memories; Seaver on vino

SAN FRANCISCO — Covering Randy Johnson’s 300th victory was a distinct privilege in and of itself. That milestone continued to pay psychic dividends Saturday for us baseball writers with long memories.

As you probably know by now if you’re reading this, the Giants invited fellow 300-game winners Gaylord Perry, Nolan Ryan and Tom Seaver to help honor Johnson. These weren’t just guys brought in to give the pregame ceremony star power. These were guys who gave me enduring baseball memories, all-time greats I was lucky enough to see at the height of their skills.

Perry made it entertaining to be a Giants fan in the late 1960s and early ’70s. Every so often the umpires practically undressed him on the mound to check for whatever he was supposedly dabbing on the baseball to throw his spitter, and you knew they weren’t going to find anything.

He also won quite frequently. I’ll always remember his last victory as a Giant — Game 1 of the 1971 National League Championship Series against the Pirates. I still don’t know how my dad did it, but he got tickets for that game, in the very top row of Section 5 in the upper deck at Candlestick. As far as I was concerned, we might as well have sitting right behind the dugout. Willie McCovey and Tito Fuentes each hit two-run homers that day, and Perry did the rest by fending off Pittsburgh for a 5-4 complete-game victory. Of course, the Giants lost the next three games and the series, and then came the Sam McDowell trade that sent Perry to Cleveland. At this point I’d prefer to change the subject.

My lasting memory of Ryan was forged on Sept. 14, 1988 (thank you, baseball-reference.com), when he pitched for the Houston Astros at Cincinnati and defeated the Reds, 7-1. As I recall, talk that Ryan might be in his final days with the Astros already had proliferated. So it was a thrill to see Ryan throw a four-hit complete game and strike out 13. Memories play tricks (unless baseball-reference.com can confirm them), but I recall Ryan looking a little more jubilant than might be expected as his teammates engulfed him after the final out. After all, he had just proven that he wasn’t finished yet. His performance the next few years with the Texas Rangers indeed demonstrated that he had plenty left.

The first time I saw Seaver pitch was on Aug. 31, 1969, in the first game of a Mets-Giants doubleheader at Candlestick. Willie McCovey, who was in the home stretch of his Most Valuable Player season, hit a monstrous triple in the second inning. And that was just about it for the Giants. Seaver allowed six other hits and struck out 11 in an 8-0 Mets triumph. Oh, and he pitched a complete game, just like Perry and Ryan did. No wonder I developed an affinity for that all-too-rare feat.

Fast-forward 10 seasons. Seaver had migrated to the Cincinnati Reds, and McCovey, after a brief exile with San Diego and Oakland, had rejoined the Giants and was approaching the end of his Hall of Fame career. On this June 30 afternoon, McCovey hit two drives to the center-field warning track. And that was just about it for the Giants. Seaver pitched a three-hitter in a 2-0 Reds victory.

That ties in with Seaver’s remarks about his second career: Winemaking. He operates Seaver Family Vineyards in Calistoga, releasing his wine under the label “GTS.” For the uninitiated, that stands for George Thomas Seaver, the right-hander’s given name.

Said Seaver of his current passion, “It’s about as much fun as a three-hit shutout.”

Seaver presented Johnson with a magnum of his ’06 Cabernet to commemorate victory No. 300. On the bottle, Seaver wrote in silver Sharpie above his autograph, “R.J. — Welcome to the club!”

The wine is for Johnson to share with whomever he pleases. The memories he, Seaver and others of his ilk provided are for all to enjoy.

– Chris Haft

No controversy with Affeldt, etc.

SAN DIEGO — When Bruce Bochy removed Jeremy Affeldt after the left-hander fell behind 2-0 on pinch-hitter Edgar Gonzalez in the seventh inning, it was easy to imagine that the manager was impatient with the reliever for falling behind on the count.

That assumption, like many others, was false.

Affeldt had thrown 22 pitches, and probably would have needed a few more to finish the inning. With left-handed batters Andre Ethier, James Loney, Blake DeWitt and Doug Mientkiewicz awaiting the Giants in Los Angeles, Bochy wants Affeldt to be fresh. So he took the unconventional step of removing Affeldt in the middle of a plate appearance.

“I didn’t want to work him,” Bochy said. “We may need him tomorrow.”

***

Tim Lincecum’s next outing will be Saturday against Arizona. I expect him to pitch a strong game. Then again, I expected that here, and look what happened.

Lincecum doubtlessly has encountered mini-slumps like this before, and they didn’t stop him from reaching the Major Leagues. He’s good at analyzing himself, and if he has any questions, he can consult his father, Chris, who knows his pitching mechanics best of all. Lincecum might not finish 18-5 as he did last year, but he’ll remind everybody just how formidable he is sooner than later.

*** 

Ah, the first Giants-Dodgers series of the season. Time to unearth Willie McCovey’s great line about the rivalry: “You can hear the electricity.” The non-stop buzz, whether real or perceived, is intoxicating.

It’ll be intriguing to see how Randy Johnson, Monday’s starter for the Giants, responds to being thrust into baseball’s best rivalry (yes, I said “best.” I’ll explain some other time). As intense as Johnson is, it probably won’t make a difference in his approach. Not like when Juan Marichal or John “The Count” Montefusco would get extra pumped-up to face the Dodgers. The Big Unit gets pumped up to face everybody.

– Chris Haft

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