NEW YORK -- Willie McCovey, the most prolific left-handed home run hitter in National League history, Wednesday night was elected to the Hall of Fame by the Baseball Writers' Association of America.
McCovey received 346 of the 425 votes returned to become only the 16th player elected to the Cooperstown, N.Y., shrine in his first year of eligibility. A minimum of 75 percent of the votes -- 319 this year - is required.
McCovey, who retired in 1980, hit 521 home runs -- ninth on the all-time list -- during an illustrious 22-year major league career spent mostly with the San Francisco Giants. Of the 12 retired players who hit 500 or more home runs during their major-league career, the remaining 11 are already in the Hall of Fame.
Billy Williams, former Chicago Cubs outfielder, fell four votes short, receiving 315 votes for 74.1 percent. Only two players have missed by less -- Nellie Fox in 1985 was two votes short in his final year of eligibility and Pie Traynor missed by two in 1947 but was elected the following year.
Williams was on the ballot for the fifth year and has 10 years of eligibility remaining.
Jim 'Catfish' Hunter received 289 votes, followed by Jim Bunning with 279 and recently deceased Roger Maris with 177.
Prior to McCovey, players elected in their first eligible year 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.
A 6-foot-4, 198-pound first baseman, McCovey was the NL's Rookie of the Year in 1959. He led the NL in homers and slugging percentage three times and in RBI twice. In 1969 he was named the NL's Most Valuable Player.
Williams played 16 seasons in the majors -- 14 with the Cubs -- and compiled a lifetime average of .290 with 426 home runs and 1,475 RBI. A left fielder for most of his career, he played in 1,117 consecutive games from 1964-70, an NL record that stood for 13 years until broken by Steve Garvey.
McCovey, a popular first baseman who answered to the nickname of 'Stretch,' played for the Giants, San Diego Padres and Oakland A's during a career that began in 1959 and ended in 1980.
He played on a right leg that never was the same after he tore cartilage in his knee the minor leagues. Still, his major-league debut was magnificent.
Summoned hastily from the minors in July 1959, McCovey flew half the night, and proceeded to go 4-for-4 against Hall of Famer Robin Roberts. He collected two triples and two singles, hitting the left-, right-, and center-field fences in Seals Stadium.
McCovey finished his first year with a .354 average and unanimously won NL Rookie of the Year honors.
He reported to camp the following spring about 20 pounds overweight and hit .238 in his second year.
'I was so confused I didn't know whether I was coming or going,' he said. 'I'm a sucker for advice. I tried to listen to everybody about hitting.
'I guess I have to take much of the blame. I figured I had my job made when I came to spring training. I thought maybe I could hit 35 or 40 home runs.'
Instead, McCovey didn't blossom until 1963 when he tied Hank Aaron for the league lead with 44 homers. From 1965 through 1970, he never hit less than 31 homers. In 1969, he posted a career high with 45 homers and added 126 RBI, becoming th league's MVP.
After the 1973 season, the Giants dealt McCovey to the Padres for pitcher Mike Caldwell. He played in San Diego until 1976 when the Oakland A's acquired him late in the season.
McCovey regained a job with the Giants in 1977, winning Comeback Player of the Year honors with 28 homers and 86 RBI. He collected his 500th homer against Atlanta on June 30, 1978, slicing Jamie Easterly's 0-2 pitch over the left-field fence.
He announced his retirement in June 1980.
For release at 11:15 p.m.