When a sports hero that actually changed the way people feel about the game passes away, it leaves everyone just a bit empty.
Sadly, that happened on Wednesday, when Hall of Famer Willie McCovey passed away at the age of 80.
There are few players in any sport that are recognized by generations simply by their first name.
But when any fan simply said, “Willie,” everyone worth their salt knew it was Willie McCovey they were talking about.
McCovey broke into the major leagues in 1959 with the San Francisco Giants.
By 1963, McCovey was a regular in the lineup and rewarding the Giants handsomely.
In eight out of the next nine seasons, McCovey hit at least 31 home runs.
The lone exception was the 1964 season, when McCovey only played in 130 games and hit a still-respectable 18 home runs.
During his epic run, McCovey was the league leader in home runs three times, the RBI leader twice, and the league MVP once, in 1969.
But at the conclusion of the 1973 season, the Giants stunned fans by trading McCovey to the San Diego Padres.
McCovey’s career was winding down at this point — and his power numbers proved it.
In 1976, McCovey moved to the Oakland Athletics, a union that didn’t even last a dozen games.
In 1977, he returned to the Giants to finish out his career.
While McCovey’s batting average suffered during his final four seasons, his power numbers were still respectable, especially during those first three, during which he hit 55 home runs.
McCovey retired from baseball in 1980, arguably one of the best to have ever played the game and surely one of the top first basemen in history.
McCovey’s health problems in the years since his retirement have been no secret to fans.
He recently made an appearance at the ballpark in a wheelchair at final game of the season for the Giants against their hated rivals, the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Rest in peace, Mr. McCovey. The world is surely a lesser place without you in it.