Willie McCovey turned his 1980 Topps card into a hunk of hobby history with one simple turn of phrase: I’m retiring.

 Willie McCovey

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The date was June 22, 1980, when the Giants’ legendary slugger made the announcement, and it was a boom heard ‘round the baseball world.

Not only was Stretch hanging up his spikes, but he was bowing out at the All-Star break.

And, true to his word, McCovey started just one more game, then stayed on as a pinch hitter as San Francisco traveled to San Diego, then came back to Candlestick Park to host the Dodgers and Reds.

He even traveled with the team to Los Angeles for a three game set over the July 4th weekend heading into the Midsummer Classic.

On that Sunday, after sitting on Friday and taking one plate appearance on Saturday, Big Mac came on one last time on Sunday, July 6. In the eighth inning, he hit for Rennie Stennett with the score tied at three, men on first and third, and one out.

And, like he had so many times before, McCovey delivered, touching Rick Sutcliffe for a flyball to center to bring in Jack Clark with the go-ahead run.

That was the last of 1555 career RBI and the end of the line on a no-doubt Hall of Fame run that also featured 521 home runs, the 1959 National League Rookie of the Year Award, the N.L. MVP award ten years later, and legions of fans up and down the west coast … and across the entire continent, for that matter.

Of course, McCovey’s story had been very nearly complete even entering the 1980 season — his first half produced a modest .204/1 HR/16 RBI addendum to his impressive record.

With Coooperstown a sure deal, then, Stretch’s 1980 Topps card was already a popular pull that summer.

So, how could his retirement have possibly enhanced it in some way?

Well, back in those days, Topps was loathe to feature any player in their base set when they knew he wasn’t going to be on a big league roster. And, with McCovey taking his leave so early in the 1980 campaign, you can bet he was never even a consideration for inclusion in the 1981 Topps set.

And so, in an instant, the 1980 Topps Willie McCovey went from a cool late-career issue of a future Hall of Famer to the last Topps card of a retiring hero.

The end of active McCovey and Topps’ continued obstinance on the point also set up an early hobby victory for a combatant who had yet to even take the field.

Because, while McCovey was enjoying his first summer in retirement, and while Topps was gearing up for its first Traded set that fall, upstart Fleer landed a heavy blow by dealing collectors the only Big Mac career-capper of 1981.

It was a parting shot that might not have lived up to the grandeur of that 1980 Topps beauty, but a final pasteboard that would do … in a pinch.


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