Madison Bumgarner, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now, was voted the 2014 Willie Mac Award winner. At 25, he’s the third-youngest recipient in the history of the award, behind Jack Clark in 1980 (24 years old) and Matt Cain in 2009 (also 24).
“Willie, if you’re watching, I hope you have a speedy recovery, and we all look forward to seeing you at the ballpark soon,” Bumgarner said when accepting the award in front of the mound during a pregame ceremony at AT&T Park. McCovey, who’s recovering from an infection that’s kept him in the hospital for over two weeks, reportedly planned on watching the ceremony on television.
This is an award that’s voted on by the players and coaches. The fans get a vote — literally. The fan balloting counts as one vote that gets thrown in the pile with the votes from the players, coaches and training staff. In the end the leading vote-getter was Bumgarner, with last year’s Willie Mac winner, Hunter Pence, finishing second.
“It means a lot because of the people who are voting for it and who’s won in the past. It’s pretty special,” Bumgarner said.
“That definitely means a lot. That’s really special. That’s what you try to come in and work for and try to be a good representation of the Giants every day. Happy to get recognition for it and know that it’s not just getting passed up, everybody knows.”
Ryan Vogelsong won the award in 2011, and he described what he thought pushed Bumgarner to the top in 2014.
“When a guy takes the ball, there’s that feeling that you’re going to win. For me, as a pitcher, that’s one of the best feelings you can have. I’ve had it here in the past where you can tell when you walk in the room that the guys are excited that you’re on the mound that day. And I feel like that’s the feeling we have when Madison’s taken the ball,” said Vogelsong.
“He does other things in here that you guys don’t see, shows his leadership qualities, the way he battles, the way he works hard. But for me, the thing that stands out the most is the energy this team has when he takes the mound.”
Ten past winners talked to the media a few hours before the game about the award and what McCovey meant to them. I pulled my favorite quote from each player.
1. “Willie McCovey always represented baseball royalty. He carried himself in a way that set him above everyone else on the field.” – Bob Brenly (1984)
2. “As a young kid that kind of got out of hand a little bit when I played, he’d sit me down and pull me aside, and teach me the right way. I owe both Willies an awful lot, because they gave me the right way to play this game … The one thing that transcends the baseball side is that they helped me become a man. They helped me become a better man.” — Chris Speier (1987)
3. “Willie McCovey, to me, is the Giants. I wasn’t here (when Mays played). When I was here, it was Mac.” — Darrell Evans (1983)
4. “The way he played the game was a huge part of the reason I wore my socks up high.” — Marquis Grissom (2003)
5. “This award is not one that you receive and when you get home, you stick it under your bed or in a box or what have you. You put it up on the wall and you display it with a lot of pride.” — Robby Thompson (1991)
6. “He always treated me with a lot of respect. Great guy, great human being. I always said I admire him more as a person. I know he was a great player. But he always gives me great advice and he’s a good friend. I hope he gets better soon.” — Andres Torres (2010)
7. “Willie McCovey made such an impression on me because he’s got to be the biggest, quietest guy I’ve ever meant. Some of his comments that he made to me were pretty subtle, but very, very respectful. It was impressive to me how respectful he was to the younger guys.” — Jeff Kent (1998)
8. “It wasn’t just about a baseball player. It was about the man and what he represented. Because of that, it’s the most significant honor for me in my career to have been the recipient of the Willie Mac Award.” — Dave Dravecky (1989)
9. “He made fun of me because he was sitting down when I received my award and we were about the same size. So that was kind of cool.” — Marvin Benard (1999)
10. “To see the pride in his uniform and the way he loved San Francisco itself had a big effect on me and the way I carried myself. The way he carried himself on and off the field, and I can still remember sitting in the last seat of the bus, going back and forth to the ballpark. (laughs) It was pretty cool to see him. He always dressed in a nice suit.” — Larry Herndon (1981)
Bonus quote from Jeff Kent
“I’ve told a lot of people I played in the wrong era. I would’ve loved to play with guys like him. Dusty Baker told me that some of those guys were assholes, and that’s probably another reason why I would’ve played well (in that era).”