SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Willie McCovey, the sweet-swinging Hall of Famer nicknamed “Stretch” for his 6-foot-4 height and those long arms, died Wednesday. He was 80.
The San Francisco Giants announced McCovey’s death, saying the fearsome hitter passed “peacefully” on Wednesday afternoon “after losing his battle with ongoing health issues.”
A first baseman and left fielder, McCovey was a .270 career hitter with 521 home runs and 1,555 RBIs in 22 major league seasons, 19 of them with the Giants. He also played for the Athletics and Padres.
McCovey made his major league debut at 21 on July 30, 1959, and played alongside the other Willie — Hall of Famer Willie Mays — into the 1972 season before Mays was traded to the New York Mets.
McCovey batted .354 with 13 homers and 38 RBIs on the way to winning the 1959 NL Rookie of the Year award. The six-time All-Star also won the 1969 NL MVP and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1986 after his first time on the ballot.
“You knew right away he wasn’t an ordinary ballplayer,” Hall of Famer Hank Aaron said, courtesy of the Hall of Fame. “He was so strong, and he had the gift of knowing the strike zone. There’s no telling how many home runs he would have hit if those knees weren’t bothering him all the time and if he played in a park other than Candlestick.”
McCovey had been getting around in a wheelchair in recent years because he could no longer rely on his once-dependable legs, yet was still regularly seen at the ballpark in his private suite. McCovey had attended games at AT&T Park as recently as the season finale.
“I love him so much. It’s a very sad day for me. We were very close,” Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda said in a telephone interview. “Willie McCovey was not only a great ballplayer but a great teammate. He didn’t have any fear. He never complained.
“I remember one time in 1960 they sent him down to the minor leagues after being Rookie of the Year the year before. He didn’t complain. He was very polite, he was very quiet. He was a great man, a great friend. I’m going to miss him so much. He didn’t say a bad word about anybody.”
While the Giants captured their third World Series title of the decade in 2014, McCovey returned to watch them play while still recovering from an infection that hospitalized him that September for about a month.
He attended one game at AT&T Park during both the NL Championship Series and World Series. He even waited for the team at the end of the parade route inside San Francisco’s Civic Center.
“It was touch and go for a while,” McCovey said at the time. “They pulled me through, and I’ve come a long way.”
McCovey had been thrilled the Giants accomplished something he didn’t during a decorated career in the major leagues.
Even four-plus decades later, it still stung for the left-handed slugging “Big Mac” that he never won a World Series after coming so close. The Giants lost the 1962 World Series to the New York Yankees.
He often thought about that World Series, and it remained difficult to accept. The Giants lost 1-0 in Game 7 when McCovey lined out to second baseman Bobby Richardson with runners on second and third for the final out.
“I still think about it all the time. I still think, ‘If I could have hit it a little more,’” he said on Oct. 31, 2014.
In 2012, he said: “I think about the line drive, yes. Can’t get away from it.”
McCovey narrowly beat out Mets pitcher Tom Seaver for the 1969 MVP award. McCovey led the NL in home runs (45) and RBIs (126) for the second straight year, batting .320 while also posting NL bests with a .453 on-base percentage and .656 slugging percentage. He was walked 121 times, then drew a career-high 137 free passes the next season.
He had been third in the ‘68 voting for NL MVP, but after 1969 would never again finish higher than ninth.
McCovey and Ted Williams before him were among the first players to really face infield shifts as opponents tried to affect his rhythm at the plate.
On Wednesday night, former teammate Felipe Alou recalled inviting McCovey to play winter ball with him in 1958 for Escogido in Alou’s native Dominican Republic.
McCovey got homesick, so a still-single Alou moved out of his parents’ home and into an apartment with his dear friend and teammate. They were roommates in the minors and majors, too. McCovey called Alou “Rojas,” his father’s last name. Alou called him “Willie Lee,” McCovey’s middle name.
“We had a great relationship. Incredible friend and player and individual,” Alou said. “I have so many good memories.”
McCovey was born on Jan. 10, 1938, in Mobile, Alabama. He had spent the last 18 years in a senior advisory role for the Giants.
“For more than six decades, he gave his heart and soul to the Giants,” team president and CEO Larry Baer said. “As one of the greatest players of all time, as a quiet leader in the clubhouse, as a mentor to the Giants who followed in his footsteps, as an inspiration to our Junior Giants, and as a fan cheering on the team from his booth.”
Said McCovey’s wife, Estela, whom he married this summer: “Every moment he will be terribly missed. He was my best friend and husband. Living life without him will never be the same.”
McCovey had a daughter, Allison, and three grandchildren, Raven, Philip, and Marissa. McCovey also is survived by sister Frances and brothers Clauzell and Cleon.
McCovey said that 2010 victory, when the Giants won the franchise’s first World Series championship since moving from New York in 1958, helped eased the pain for players like him, Juan Marichal, Mays and Alou. Seeing San Francisco in the Fall Classic again brought those smiles back to McCovey’s face.
“We’re kind of getting spoiled,” he said in 2012. “This is two in three years. People don’t realize how hard it is to get here. We’ve been pretty lucky.”
McCovey presented the “Willie Mac Award” each season — except in 2014 while dealing with complications from the infection — an honor voted on by the players, coaches and training staff to recognize the team’s player most exhibiting McCovey’s inspirational example both on the field and in the clubhouse. He was there this year as reliever Will Smith was honored.
“Something I will cherish forever,” Smith wrote on Twitter on Wednesday. “May he Rest In Peace.”
When San Francisco opened its new waterfront ballpark in 2000, the cove beyond the right-field fence was named “McCovey Cove” in appreciation of all he did for the organization. There’s a statue of McCovey’s likeness on the other side of the water from where those splash hits land.
“Willie McCovey was one of our game’s greatest power hitters. He won the National League MVP in 1969 and, alongside fellow Hall of Famer and Alabama native Willie Mays, was a key part of many memorable Giants’ teams,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said. “For 22 years on the field and many more after retiring, Willie was a superb ambassador for the Giants and our game.”
The Giants said a public celebration of McCovey’s life would be held at a later date.
More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
Violence plagued West Virginia prison before Bulger killing
By MICHAEL BALSAMO
Thursday, November 1
WASHINGTON (AP) — Long before notorious Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger was killed at a federal prison in West Virginia, lawmakers, advocates and even prison guards had been sounding the alarm about dangerous conditions there. But there has been no public indication that federal prison officials have taken action to address the safety concerns, even as Bulger’s killing marks the third at the facility in the last six months.
An independent government commission found that United States Penitentiary Hazelton has been overcrowded for years. Inmates have repeatedly expressed concerns about their safety at the high-security prison, which houses 1,270 male inmates. A 2016 report from the District of Columbia’s Corrections Information Council said that prisoners warned officials, “Inmates can lose their lives quickly here.”
In April, 48-year-old Ian Thorne was killed during an altercation with a fellow prisoner, and in September, Demario Porter was also killed in another fight with a fellow inmate.
Court records, oversight reports and news articles detail numerous violent incidents in recent years. In 2016, an inmate was charged with murder after prosecutors said he strangled another prisoner to death during a fight. In February 2015, an inmate stabbed a fellow prisoner with a hand-crafted weapon during a fight, according to court documents. Another inmate received an extended sentence in May for assaulting a fellow prisoner and possessing a deadly weapon.
“There are a multitude of federal prisons that don’t have a homicide rate like that,” said Cameron Lindsay, a former federal prison warden who now works as a jail security consultant.
The federal Bureau of Prisons has not responded to requests for comment about safety concerns at USP Hazelton.
Last week, five members of Congress wrote to Attorney General Jeff Sessions about what they called “dangerous continual understaffing” at federal prisons in West Virginia and Pennsylvania and stated their alarm about the deaths at USP Hazelton.
Justice Department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said DOJ was “aware of the concerns raised in the letter” and would respond to the members of Congress.
In a separate letter this month, the District of Columbia’s House delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, asked the Justice Department’s inspector general to launch an investigation into the conditions at USP Hazelton, citing Thorne and Porter’s deaths. Holmes Norton said she had also heard about the “brutal treatment” of inmates at the prison and was concerned that the incidents “may be indicative of larger, ongoing problems at the facility.”
In a statement Tuesday, Norton said Bulger’s death “underscores reports of a culture of violence at Hazelton.”
Norton’s office said she had not received a response to her earlier letter, and John Lavinsky, a spokesman for the inspector general, declined to comment.
The 89-year-old Bulger, who benefited from a corrupt relationship with the FBI before spending 16 years as one of America’s most wanted men, was found unresponsive Tuesday morning, just hours after he arrived at USP Hazelton. He was declared dead shortly afterward. Authorities have not released a cause of death, but prosecutors said it was being investigated as a homicide. A Mafia hit man, Fotios “Freddy” Geas, who is said to hate “rats,” and at least one other inmate are believed to have been involved in Bulger’s killing, an ex-investigator briefed on the case said Wednesday. The longtime investigator was not authorized to discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.
Bulger led a largely Irish mob that ran loan-sharking, gambling and drug rackets. He also was an FBI informant who ratted on the New England mob, his gang’s main rival, in an era when bringing down the Mafia was a top priority for the FBI.
It’s not clear why he was transferred.
“What I don’t understand is why the Federal Bureau of Prisons would transfer a super high-publicity inmate, who is a known snitch, to general population of a high-security prison. You’ve got to be smarter than that,” Lindsay, the former warden, said.
Union officials say the prison is operating at about 75 percent of its staffing level and has dozens of vacant positions. They have also decried a practice known as augmentation, which taps health care workers, teachers, secretaries and prison cooks to fill correction officer positions because of officer shortages and overtime limits.
Justin Tarovisky, executive vice president of the American Federation of Government Employees Local 420, which represents Hazelton prison guards, said Bulger’s death “outlines how dangerous this prison is.” The union voiced its concerns about staffing in a picket outside the prison as far back as 2015.
The letter sent to Sessions last week by Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va.; Pat Toomey, R-Pa.; Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.; and Bob Casey, D-Pa.; and Rep. Bill Schuster, R-Pa., said Congress had provided additional funding to ensure there would be at least two corrections officers on duty in each housing unit for each shift and that the policy was “not being enforced as intended.” The legislators said they were concerned that the Bureau of Prisons hasn’t followed Congress’ direction to curtail “its overreliance on augmentation, particularly in housing units.”
A hiring freeze imposed by the Trump administration has left the agency short-staffed and some already overloaded federal prisons have been housing immigration detainees in recent months as well.
President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and top adviser, Jared Kushner, has pushed prison reform as a key priority, though others in the Trump administration — including Sessions — support the toughest possible sentences for drug and other convictions. Kushner has had an interest in prison reform since his own father, Charles Kushner, was incarcerated for 14 months after being convicted of illegal campaign contributions, tax evasion, and witness tampering.
Associated Press writers Alanna Durkin Richer in Boston and John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia, contributed to this report.
Follow Balsamo on Twitter at www.twitter.com/MikeBalsamo1.
Maryland fires coach DJ Durkin day after reinstatement
By DAVID GINSBURG
AP Sports Writer
Thursday, November 1
COLLEGE PARK, Md. (AP) — DJ Durkin’s return as Maryland’s football coach lasted one day.
Durkin was fired Wednesday night, just over 24 hours after being reinstated.
Instead of resolving the issues facing the flawed program, the decision by the University System of Maryland board of regents on Tuesday to retain Durkin and athletic director Damon Evans created a different set of problems in the wake of a player’s death and discontent engulfing the football team.
Several state officials called for Durkin to be fired, and one called the decision to retain him an “embarrassment.”
Maryland President Wallace Loh fired Durkin after conferring with the leadership of the Student Government Association, the Senate Executive Committee, deans, department chairs and campus leadership. The firing came about five months after offensive lineman Jordan McNair collapsed on the practice field and later died of heatstroke.
“The overwhelming majority of stakeholders expressed serious concerns about Coach DJ Durkin returning to the campus,” Loh wrote in a statement.
“The chair of the Board of Regents has publicly acknowledged that I had previously raised serious concerns about Coach Durkin’s return. This is not at all a reflection of my opinion of Coach Durkin as a person. However, a departure is in the best interest of the University, and this afternoon Coach Durkin was informed that the University will part ways,” Loh wrote. “This is a difficult decision, but it is the right one for our entire University.”
Loh’s action was immediately met with approval by Maryland Congressman Anthony G. Brown.
“Dr. Loh’s firing of Coach Durkin is the right decision and the decision that had to be made if the UMD community was going to ever move forward,” Brown said.
Durkin’s dismissal comes while he was in the third season of a five-year, $12.5 million contract he signed in December 2015. He will be owed about $5.5 million, according to buyout terms of his contract.
Matt Canada is expected to resume the role of interim coach. Maryland is 5-3 heading into Saturday’s home game against Michigan State.
Hired after serving one season as defensive coordinator at Michigan, Durkin had a 10-15 record at Maryland. The Terrapins went 6-7 in his first season, losing to Boston College in the Quick Lane Bowl, then fell to 4-8 in 2017 while coping with injuries to three different quarterbacks.
Durkin began his coaching career as a graduate assistant at Bowling Green in 2001 after playing four seasons there as a defensive end and outside linebacker.
He served three years as an assistant coach at Stanford from 2007-9 and was at Florida from 2010-14, spending the last two years as the Gators defensive coordinator.
Durkin was placed on administrative leave Aug. 11 while board of regents waited for the results of an investigation on the culture of the program.
After receiving that report, the board decided to bring him back, saying he was “unfairly blamed for the dysfunction in the athletic department.”
Prior to the news of Durkin’s dismissal, Gov. Larry Hogan demanded the board and Loh participate in a public meeting to explain how they arrived at the conclusion to retain the coach.
“The University System of Maryland has let down the University of Maryland community and the citizens of Maryland,’ Hogan said in statement, “and now is the time to fix it.”
Hogan wasn’t the only politician looking for answers.
Del. Maggie McIntosh, a Baltimore Democrat who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, planned a hearing on Nov. 15 in Annapolis to “shine more light” on the decision-making process that led to the retirement of Loh — who announced Tuesday his decision to step down in June 2019 — while the coach and other athletic staff remained.
“Obviously, the regents had their press conference, and it actually has raised a lot more questions and is getting quite a strong reaction from policy makers, legislators and frankly, even the public,” she said. “I’ve heard words like ‘perplexing,’ ‘shocking.’”
Hogan’s opponent in the November election, Democrat Ben Jealous, wrote in a statement, “The University of Maryland has become a national embarrassment for putting the agenda of a few wealthy football boosters ahead of the health and safety of its student athletes.”
The decision to reinstate Durkin did not sit well with students, either.
On Thursday, the Executive Board of the Maryland Student Government Association planned an on-campus rally after saying it was “outraged with the decisions made by the board of regents.”
That protest likely won’t be necessary anymore.
Durkin and Evans were on the job when McNair collapsed on the practice field on May 29 and died of heatstroke on June 13. After McNair’s death, the board of regents called for an independent investigation of the circumstance that led to the death and an external review of the football program.
Several media outlets reported that at least three players walked out of a team meeting with Durkin on Tuesday, and offensive lineman Ellis McKennie blasted the board of regents’ decision on Twitter.
Loh’s leadership was addressed in both investigations, and he did not emerge completely unscathed. He did personally apologize to McNair’s parents in August, saying Maryland would take “legal and moral responsibility” for the circumstances leading to their son’s death.
More AP college football: https://apnews.com/Collegefootball and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25
Ohio’s Trout Stockings Offer More Fishing Opportunities
COLUMBUS, OH – Catchable rainbow and yearling brown trout will be released again this year in the Malabar Farm region as part of a pilot project to evaluate the suitability of both species for future stockings in the area, according to the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR).
The Inn Pond across from the Malabar Farm Restaurant will receive rainbow trout, and Switzer Creek on Malabar Farm State Park property will receive brown trout. All fish are scheduled to be released before Veterans Day weekend this year. Anglers are reminded that at the Malabar areas there is a daily bag limit of five fish and no minimum size limit.
Anglers who fish the Mohican River will also have additional opportunities to catch 11-inch to 14-inch rainbow trout beginning later this month. Rainbow trout will be released to provide a fall through spring fishing opportunity in the lower portion of Clear Fork of the Mohican River, below Pleasant Hill Dam through Mohican State Park in Ashland County. Brown trout will not be released in this location.
A recent ODNR Division of Wildlife study of Ohio’s trout streams indicated that summer water temperatures are too warm to sustain brown trout populations in this area. One rainbow trout release took place in October and another release will take place in mid-November. There is a two-fish daily bag limit and no minimum size limit in this location. Anglers should be aware that these regulations are different than the regulations for brown trout in the upper portion of Clear Fork in Richland County and the Mad River, where fisheries are still supported by annual stocking of yearling brown trout, a 12-inch minimum size limit and a daily bag limit of two fish.
Rainbow trout are also stocked every spring in public lakes and ponds across Ohio as long as areas are ice-free and accessible to anglers. Learn more about trout fishing in Ohio at wildohio.gov.
ODNR ensures a balance between wise use and protection of our natural resources for the benefit of all. Visit the ODNR website at ohiodnr.gov.