In January 1986, all of us at the Giants were thrilled, if not very surprised, when the Baseball Writers Association of America elected Giants great Willie McCovey to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. A six-time All-Star, Most Valuable Player and Rookie of the Year, McCovey received 346 votes, or 81 percent of the 425 votes cast, to become the only inductee of 41 players on the ballot that year. (The Veterans Committee also selected Ernie Lombardi and Bobby Doerr that year.)
Not long afterward, Willie asked me if I would help him shape his acceptance remarks for the induction ceremonies at Cooperstown that summer. Of course, I said, and we met for several hours to discuss the speech. I asked him what were the most important points he wished to convey, the people in his life and in baseball he wanted to thank and acknowledge, and what the honor meant to him.
I presented Stretch with a draft, which he liked. He made some changes to reflect his own thinking, added some people and places he wanted to mention, and reworked it in a few places.
He delivered his acceptance remarks on a wet Sunday afternoon, August 3, 1986. Afterward, former Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler said: “I’m 88 years old and I’ve some heard some speeches, but that fellow just delivered a dandy.”
Writer Bob Broeg, who had heard every Hall of Fame speech since 1957, commented: “That was the best speech we’ve had since Ted Williams in 1966. I don’t know if he wrote it, but he sure delivered it well.”
A few weeks later I received a note from Hall of Fame Director Howard C. Talbot, Jr.
“What a fine job you did in writing Willie McCovey’s speech for him,” wrote Talbot. “We have had many fine compliments on it and Willie did a superb job in delivering it.”
Here is the full text of Willie’s speech at Cooperstown. A video of him delivering these remarks is available on YouTube.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
I realize the weather is threatening but a lot of people passed through my life during my long baseball career, and I hope you’ll bear with me because I’d like to mention them all.
You know I’ve been thinking even though it’s raining it’s still a perfect kind of day for me. Standing here on this stage, celebrating the pinnacle of my life and my career.
One reason it seems so right today is because it’s the summertime and it’s Sunday. Sundays and summertime only mean two things to me, that means it’s a time for baseball and it’s a time for families. Both of those things, thank you, both of those things have been very important to me throughout my life. Each one has enriched the other, baseball and family. Together they have brought me here today before you. Some of the most important people in my life, in both baseball and my life, and my family life, are here today to share these moments with me. And I am very grateful that they could be here. Some of the others could not be here today but I am sure they are here in spirit.
The people I have come to know through baseball over the years are my family too in a way, and I’m going to tell you about them a little bit later on.
But when I talk about my family, I’m really talking about two families. There’s the one, of course, that starts with my dad, Frank McCovey, who passed on some 23 years ago. How I wish he could be here today with me. And my mother, Esther McCovey, who is here today and is sitting right down in front of me. Along with my sister, Francis, my brother Clauzell, and my lovely daughter, Allison.
I was raised with seven brothers, Frank, Jr., Wad, Arthur, Richmond, Walter, Clauzell and Cleon and two sisters, Francis and Ethel. All of them, and the others, with the McCovey family name in Mobile, Alabama and throughout the country are a part of me, and share on this occasion today.
I have another family, and it is a family of good, genuine, caring people who opened their hearts and their homes to me over the years. I guess you might say they adopted me and made me part of their families. Come to think of it I’m not sure how I ever got to be known as a loner when I was actually surrounded by so many special loving people.
I’d like to tell you a little bit about some of them. I was adopted in this way by a warm and unselfish San Francisco family, Mr. and Mrs. John Dudum and their sons. Rocky and his wife Nada are my closest friends and the Dudum family. Then there’s Paul who is here today, Audie, Jack, George and Jimmy, all my adopted brothers.
I was adopted by a bright young lawyer and his wife, Harold and Helen Silen, who not only managed my finances, but invited me into their home as part of their family.
By honest, compassionate men of dignity, like Franklin Meuli, Bill Rigney, Salty Parker, Lon Simmons and Ed Nagourney. Men who offered only friendship, counsel and understanding and expected nothing in return.
By loving, nurturing women like Ruth Stovall, who is here today, whom I call my San Francisco mother.
By the late Mrs. Mary Cross down in Phoenix, Arizona. By Charlotte Kahn in San Diego who is here today. These ladies took me under their wings, saw to it that I took care of myself, ate right, got my rest, had plenty of motherly advice when I needed it away from home. By my loyal teammates, of course I had four decades of them. Some of them were closer than others but all of them are part of my Giants family.
By Horace Stoneham and Bob Lurie, the two gentlemen who owned the Giants during my career. It was Horace who brought me up through the system, supported me throughout my career, and I’ve always been grateful to Bob for bringing me back to San Francisco in 1977 to finish out my career where I started it.
And of course in between, I’m grateful to Buzzie Bavasi for the three years I spent with him on the San Diego Padres and I especially thank Buzzie for crediting me with turning that franchise around in 1974, 5 and 6.
Horace unfortunately is not well enough to travel, but he is well represented today by Chub Feeney. But if he could hear me today, I’d like him to know how much he means to me.
Bob and his lovely wife, Connie, they are here today. I appreciate that very much and I know you all join me in congratulating Bob and the Giants on the very successful season they’re having in San Francisco. Hopefully, with the support of the people of the Bay area, we can get that stadium built and keep the Giants where they belong.
I’ve been adopted, too, by all the thousands of great Giants fans everywhere and the City of San Francisco where I’ve always been welcome. And like the Golden Gate Bridge and the cable cars, I’ve been made to feel like a landmark, too.
There are some other people I can’t help but remember fondly on this day as I think way back to the beginning of my career in Mobile, Alabama some 30 years ago. I’m thinking of Jackie Robinson who broke the color line and made our dreams of being a major leaguer a reality.
I’m thinking of Jesse Thomas, a playground director in Mobile, Alabama who arranged for me to have a tryout in front of the Giants scouts down in Melbourne, Florida, and the late scout Alex Pompez and Mr. Jack Schwarz of the Giants who together signed me to my first contract.
My first manager in pro ball, Pete Pavlick; Pete was the skipper of the Class D Sandersville Club in the Georgia State League where I broke in, in 1955. He and his wife were the first to adopt me. They used to invite me to their home after the game and became very close to me. I also remember one of my teammates there, his name was Ralph Crosby, he was out of New York. We were the only two black players on that team and we had to stay in separate parts of town back then, so Ralph and I became good friends.
I first met Salty Parker in 1956 when I went to Danville in the Carolina League and he was my manager; he also managed me at Dallas in 1957 in the Texas League.
I guess you might say Salty became somewhat of a father figure to me because I’ll never forget the day he called me into his office. He called me “Biggins.” He said, “Biggin you’re tall and because you’re tall you’ll always be respected and you’ll always stand out in a crowd.” He said, “You’re not a very outgoing person and you have an easy-going manner, and people may interpret that as though you’re not caring, but whatever people say, stay the way you are and just be yourself. Don’t ever change or let somebody try to make you something you’re not.” I’ve always remembered those words and tried to live by them, and I’ll always feel close to Salty because of the way he treated me.
When I went to Phoenix in 1958 the manager there was Red Davis who was a low-key, easy-going guy. I don’t know a person who ever played for Red who didn’t like him, and I’m no exception.
Of course, I’ll never forget how my big league career got started, after a twi-night double header in Phoenix on July 29th, 1959. Rosy Ryan, who was the General Manager of the Phoenix club at that time, came to my locker and said, “You’re going to the big club, they have a day game tomorrow and they want you up there to play.”
Well, I was up all night packing and I flew up the next morning. Horace Stoneham sent someone to the airport to pick me up, and we drove right to Seals Stadium. I requested uniform number 44 because I’ve always admired Hank Aaron, and I was getting dressed when Bill Rigney came to me and said, “How do you feel?” I said, “fine,” not wanting to tell him I had been up all night. He said, “Good, because you’re in there and you’re hitting third. You know whose spot that is, I’m moving Mays up to second today so you know what we’re expecting of you.”
Well, that was the first of many days that season I was to make Bill look like a genius. I was fortunate enough that day to go 4-for-4 off Robin Roberts, two triples and two singles.
The next night I’m facing a tough left-hander by the name of Harvey Haddix of the Pirates, and with the score tied in the bottom of the 8th inning. Mays leads off with a single. Bill comes storming out of the dugout waving his hands, so I stepped out of the batter’s box and said to myself, “Now I know he’s not crazy enough to take me out for a pinch hitter, is he?” So he came up to me and he said, “If you’re patient and take a couple of pitches, that guy on first base will steal second for you and you can win the game for us.” So I take the first pitch, strike one… being somewhat of a good two-strike hitter, I decided to take the next pitch, and Mays steals second. The next pitch I singled to right. Mays scores the go-ahead run and we win the game. Made Bill look like a genius again. And like the Commissioner said, I went on to hit .354 and win Rookie of the Year. Next year, I hit .238 and got Bill fired. But the fact that he’s here today shows you that he didn’t hold it against me, and we’ve both come a long ways since then.
My first years in San Francisco I became very close to Rocky Dudum and his family, and they still are my closest friends today. I also got to know Ruth Stovall, Franklin Meuli and Hal Silen at that time, and they remain very special people in my life.
All of the people I mentioned today have played a part in the successes I’ve been fortunate enough to have throughout my life and my career in baseball, and I wanted you to know who they are because without them I certainly would not be standing here on this stage today. They are the most valuable players in my life, and they are the champions of my world and they are people in my Hall of Fame.
I would be remiss if I failed to acknowledge and extend my thanks and appreciation to the members of the Baseball Writers Association of America, not only for electing me to baseball’s highest shrine, but for many years of kind words and generous praise. And the same holds true for all of the sports media. It’s been my distinct pleasure through the years to have met and become friends with many of the nation’s best and brightest sports journalists.
And now, I have become a player on the most distinguished team of all. It’s a new family in a way, a family of men whose accomplishments in baseball and in life set them apart from all others; and I’m truly honored and blessed with this ultimate adoption, if you will. By the game that I played so hard and loved so deeply. And for many warm summer Sunday afternoons in the years to come, I will cherish the memories of my baseball career and the closeness of my family of relatives, friends, teammates, fans and my fellow Hall of Famers.
And I know my mother would not want me to leave this stage without thanking God Almighty. Thanks Jesus and thank you.