Willie McCovey, the top left-handed home run hitter in National League history, became the 16th player to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in the first year of eligibility, the Baseball Writers' Association of America announced today.
First baseman McCovey, who hit 521 homers in a 22-year career spent primarily with the San Francisco Giants, was named on 346 of 425 ballots. In order to be elected, a player must be named on 75 percent of the ballots, or 319 this year.
Outfielder Billy Williams, who spent 16 of his 18 seasons with the Chicago Cubs, missed election by four votes. He was named on 315 ballots for a percentage of 74.1.
Williams, who hit 426 career homers, was on the ballot for the fifth year and has 10 years of eligibility remaining. He also narrowly missed election last year, falling 45 votes shy of 75 percent with 252.
Pitchers Jim (Catfish) Hunter and Jim Bunning were third and fourth, respectively. Hunter had 289 votes and Bunning 279. Outfielder Roger Maris, a sentimental outsider to make the Hall after his death last month, was fifth with 177 votes.
The other players elected in their first year of eligibility were Ted Williams, Sandy Koufax, Mickey Mantle, Bob Feller, Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, Warren Spahn, Al Kaline, Bob Gibson, Hank Aaron, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Stan Musial and Lou Brock.
McCovey will be officially inducted into the Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine this coming August. Of the 41 players on the ballot, he was one of 14 players listed for the first time.
McCovey ranks ninth on the all-time list. His induction means all 12 of the retired players with 500 or more home runs are in the Hall of Fame. McCovey had a career batting average of .270 and drove in 100 or more runs in 1963, '68, '69 and '70. He led the NL in home runs three times, RBI twice, walks once and slugging percentage three times.
He broke into the majors in July 1959, going four for four with two triples and two singles against Philadelphia Phillies ace Robin Roberts in his debut, hitting the left-, right- and center-field fences in Seals Stadium. Although he played only 52 games that season, McCovey had 13 homers, 38 RBI and hit .354, winning the rookie of the year award.
In his most productive season, McCovey hit .320 with 45 homers and 126 RBI to win the 1969 Most Valuable Player award in the National League. He followed that season with another 126 RBI in 1970.
He was traded along with Bernie Williams to the San Diego Padres on Oct. 25, 1973, for Mike Caldwell. In August of '76, the Padres sold his contract to Oakland, and he rejoined the Giants the next season as a free agent, playing four more seasons.
In 1977, the year he rejoined the Giants, McCovey hit two home runs in the same inning of a 14-9 victory over Cincinnati, becoming the only player to do so twice in his career. One of the homers was his 17th career grand slam, making him the all-time NL leader in that category. He ended his career with 2,211 lifetime hits.
Williams, who concluded his career with two season with the Oakland A's, had a lifetime average of .290 with 2,711 hits, 426 home runs and 1,475 RBI. A left fielder for most of his career, he played in 1,117 consecutive games from 1964 to 1970, an NL record that stood for 13 years until broken by Steve Garvey.