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MOMENTS, MEMORIES AND MADNESS with STEVE CAMERON: Why couldn’t Willie just hit it three feet higher?

| August 2, 2020 1:12 AM

On the day he was inducted into the Hall of Fame, Willie McCovey was asked how he’d like to be remembered.

“As the guy who hit the ball six inches over Bobby Richardson’s head,” McCovey replied.

Alas, he did not.

Instead, McCovey’s vicious topspin line drive smacked into Richardson’s glove, ending the 1962 World Series.

McCovey’s at-bat became famous for a lot of reasons.

For one thing, it handed the New York Yankees their 20th Series title, after a brutal war of attrition with the San Francisco Giants (who had won 103 games).

McCovey’s bolt also occurred with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 7, with the Yanks up 1-0 and runners Matty Alou on third base and Willie Mays on second.

The fact that McCovey’s screamer was caught meant that Yankee pitcher Ralph Terry — who had given up that famous Series-winning home run to Bill Mazeroski in 1960 — could exhale after making the horrifically bad decision to pitch to McCovey with first base open.

A LOT of hearts in California were broken when McCovey’s shot found a glove.

There was Willie himself, of course.

“I hit 500 homers (actually 521), and all anybody seems to remember is that last out of the World Series,” said McCovey, who died in 2018.

There was Felipe Alou, who failed to get a bunt down after his brother, Matty, led off the ninth with a bunt single.

“I’ll live with that all my life,” Felipe said. “I failed, and it probably cost us the Series.”

Giants fans also have had to do plenty of grousing about the weather.

In a time of year that is normally gorgeous in the Bay Area, it had rained for days.

The entire field at Candlestick Park was almost a swamp, so Willie Mays’ two-out double down the right-field line didn’t reach the fence.

Instead, right fielder Roger Maris cut it off and made a great throw back to the infield – holding Matty Alou at third.

And, of course ...

Among the various other things broken, there was my heart.

I was sitting behind home plate but a bit to the left, so McCovey’s bullet was right in my line of vision.

It all happened so fast, those nearly 44,000 witnesses at The Stick probably didn’t breathe for a second or two.

Then the Yankees were celebrating in the middle of the infield, while the Giants looked in shock.

And me?

I could NOT believe it had happened.

THE NINTH inning never, ever should have played out the way it did.

People who remember that game tend to focus on the decision by Yankee manager Ralph Houk to let Terry decide whether to pitch to McCovey — or take his chances with the slumping, right-handed Orlando Cepeda with the bases loaded.

Out in center field, Mickey Mantle was stunned with the choice.

Mantle admitted that he thought: “Are we really gonna pitch to this monster?”

Terry, however, told Houk that he didn’t want the bases loaded, so he’d pitch McCovey high and in, then low and away — and THEN just walk him if he wouldn’t fish for a bad pitch.

Facing a man who had homered off him earlier in the Series and tripled to dead center in his last at-bat, Terry promptly threw two astonishingly hittable strikes.

“The first one caught me by surprise,” McCovey said. “I didn’t think I’d see a strike, so I kind of jumped at that pitch.”

The result was a long foul pulled down the line in right.

We all know about the next strike McCovey saw, and what happened to it.

“IT WAS the hardest ball I ever caught,” Richardson said, “but it wasn’t a tough play, because the ball started up higher like it would be a hit, and then the topspin brought it right down to me.”

What bothered McCovey, long after the Series had ended, was how Richardson happened to be in the right position at all.

“Every second baseman played me in the hole toward first, because I was a dead pull hitter,” McCovey said. “If I hit a ball to where Richardson happened to be standing that day, 99 times out of 100 it would be a hit.”

Even Richardson admitted after the fact that he probably got lucky.

Teams in those days didn’t do the thorough advance scouting that has become commonplace now.

“I guess if I’d known where National League second basemen played Willie, I’d probably have been much closer to first base — and I’d never have caught that ball,” Richardson said.

And people wonder why we felt the baseball gods deserted us in that ninth inning.

I THINK I absorbed that World Series loss – and the bizarre way it unfolded – like a blow to the brain, a thump that took forever to go away.

If it ever did

Among other things ...

I nearly got into a saloon fistfight over that ninth inning.

A guy named Chuck (from Detroit) wandered into a discussion some of us were having about the Giants’ misfortune.

Chuck butted in and said: “Well, even if McCovey’s ball goes through, it only ties the game. It was hit so hard, and Maris was such a great right fielder, Mays couldn’t have scored from second.”

I recall my reply exactly.

“Are you telling me that Willie Mays would NOT score from second on a base hit — with two outs, in the bottom of the ninth, to win the World Series?

“WILLIE MAYS?

“Are you drunk?”

Interestingly, a reporter had asked Giants manager Alvin Dark about the same thing in a press conference right after Game 7.

Dark laughed and replied: “If Mac’s ball goes through, by the time the throw got to home plate, Mays would already have been dressed.”

Hah!

BUT HEY, enough of that.

Let’s give that ninth inning, and my hero Willie Mac, more of a bittersweet wrap-up here, shall we?

The late cartoonist Charles M. Schulz lived in nearby Santa Rosa, and he was a passionate Giants fan.

For a Peanuts comic strip in December, Schulz depicted Charlie Brown sitting glumly with Linus, without a word spoken in the first three panels.

Then, in the last panel, Charlie simply says to the sky ...

“Why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball just three feet higher?”

Schulz clearly was hurting like the rest of us, and so he came back with another Peanuts strip about a month later.

This one featured a nearly identical scene — except in the last panel, Charlie Brown moans ...

“Or, why couldn’t McCovey have hit the ball even TWO feet higher?”

I feel your pain, Charlie Brown.

Email: scameron@cdapress.com

Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.

Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball, once per month during the off season.