• August 3, 1978 San Francisco, CA – Willie McCovey follows flight of his eleventh homer of the night. (Kenneth Green / Oakland Tribune Staff Archives)

  • Former San Francisco Giant Willie McCovey was on hand to present the Willie Mac Award to Giants pitcher Matt Cain before a game against the Chicago Cubs at AT&T Park on Friday, Sept. 25, 2009, in San Franciso, Calif. The award is given to the Giants player who best exemplifies the spirit and leadership shown by McCovey throughout his career. (Jane Tyska/Staff)

  • July 7, 1977 San Francisco, CA – Willie McCovey at bat. (By Russ Reed / Oakland Tribune)

  • March 29, 1977 San Francisco, CA – San Francisco Giant Willie McCovey. (By Roy H. Williams / Oakland Tribune)

  • Former San Francisco Giants player Willie McCovey waves to the crowd while riding in a car during a baseball World Series parade in downtown San Francisco, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2010. The Giants defeated the Texas Rangers in five games for their first championship since the team moved west from New York 52 years ago. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

  • March 29, 1977 San Francisco, CA – San Francisco Giant Willie McCovey. (By Roy H. Williams / Oakland Tribune)

  • San Francisco, CA March 14, 1965 – Giants’ Willie McCovey examines his custom-built shoes. (By Tommy McDonough / Oakland Tribune)

  • San Francisco, CA July 30, 1959 – Willie McCovey, Giants first baseman named National League Rookie of the Year 1959, offers soda pop in the dressing room. (Leo Cohen / Oakland Tribune Staff Archives)

  • San Francisco Giants great Willie McCovey watches the proceedings as the Giants hand out the Willie Mac Award for 2010 to Andres Torres prior to a Major League Baseball game against the San Diego Padres, Friday, Oct. 1, 2010 at AT&T Park in San Francisco. (D. Ross Cameron/Staff)

  • San Francisco, CA February 27, 1964 – San Francisco Giant Willie McCovey poses with his arsenal of weapons. (By Tommy McDonough / Oakland Tribune)

  • San Francisco, CA February 29, 1960 – San Francisco Giants first baseman Willie McCovey. (Leo Cohen / Oakland Tribune Staff Archives)

  • John J. Kim-staff 9/28/99 ang sports San Francisco Giants legend Willie McCovey (left) gives a press conference as the 1999 Willie Mac Award recepient Marvin Benard answers reporters’ questions Tuesday night at 3Com Park before the last home series opener of the season against the Dodgers.

  • San Francisco, CA May 2, 1970 – Willie McCovey, right, receives the Most Valuable Player National League Award. Standing with him are, from left, Willie Mays and National League President Chub Feeney. (By Prentice Brooks / Oakalnd Tribune)

  • San Francisco, CA January 31, 1973 San Francisco, CA – San Francisco Giants’ Willie McCovey warms up during training. (By Russ Reed / Oakland Tribune)

  • San Francisco Giants legend Willie McCovey is among 50 of 60 living members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame who returned to Cooperstown, NY., on Sunday, July 25, 2004, to welcome new inductees Dennis Eckersley and Paul Molitor. Just over his shoulder is Willie Mays, another Giants legend. (Contra Costa Times/Cindi Christie)

  • Former San Francisco Giants’ MVP Willie McCovey waves to the crowd as fellow former MVP Willie Mays looks on as the Giants’ Buster Posey (28) is honored with the National League MVP award before the Giants hosted the Cardinals at AT&T Park in San Francisco Saturday, April 6, 2013. (Patrick Tehan/Staff)

  • Former San Francisco Giants’ Willie Mays, left, and Willie McCovey during a ceremony honoring Candlestick Park before the San Francisco Giants game against the Arizona Diamondbacks at AT&T Park in San Francisco, Calif. on Thursday, April 10, 2014. (Nhat V. Meyer/Bay Area News Group)

  • Flowers drape the base of the Willie McCovey statue in San Francisco, Calif. as the sun rises, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, one day after the death of the San Francisco Giants’ Hall of Famer. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • Flowers drape the base of the Willie McCovey statue in San Francisco, Calif. as the sun rises, Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, one day after the death of the San Francisco Giants’ Hall of Famer. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • A Giants camp sits on the base of the Willie McCovey statue in San Francisco, Calif., Thursday morning, Nov. 1, 2018, one day after the death of the San Francisco Giants’ Hall of Famer. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

  • The sun rises behind the Willie McCovey statue in San Francisco, Calif., Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018, one day after the death of the San Francisco Giants’ Hall of Famer. (Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group)

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Imagine Jim Barr’s excitement upon being summed to the major leagues for the first time. Imagine his amazement when the Giants showed him to his locker — right next to the locker of Willie McCovey.

“He meant so much to me,” Barr said, appearing on KNBR Wednesday night, just hours after McCovey, a Giants icon and baseball Hall of Famer, died at 80.

“Willie was not only a great player,” Barr told KNBR’s Drew Hoffar, “he was a guy you can talk to, easy-going. If you had a question you sat down and talked to him and he would give you an answer.”

Mind you this was 47 years ago, when the code in the clubhouse strongly suggested that rookies be seen and not heard.

“The veterans were the veterans and the younger guys, you followed the veterans,” Barr said. “You didn’t do your thing, you followed what they did.”

Sounds like a caste system. And yet McCovey, not only a veteran but the most feared hitter in the game, allowed Barr to use his bats.

“At that time pitchers, we didn’t get bats,” Barr said. “We had to borrow. I remember one time I broke one. I reached out and grabbed a bat and he goes, ‘Hey, you can take whatever you want, but I have to see it first.’ So if it was a good bat, he wasn’t going to let me have it.”

Barr said he saw McCovey upset only once.

“With me on the mound,” Barr said. “We were in San Diego and there was a swinging bunt down the line by Dave Winfield. I go to tag him and he knocks the ball out of my glove, and I sort of thought he took a swing at me. I argued with the umpire, and then got back on the mound. The next hitter was George Hendrick. Well, George you pitch inside because he had long arms. So you try to jam him.

“The first pitch I throw was inside, but it was up and in a little bit and George went down. You could knock George down four times in a row. He would just walk to first base and never say a word. But after that first pitch, here comes Mac from first base. He looks at me. His eyes are bigger than normal. And he goes, ‘What the hell are you doing?’”

Here Barr starts talking very fast, like someone trying desperately to find the magic words that will get him out of deep trouble.

“I went, ‘Mac, I’m sorry. I didn’t try to do that, Mac.’ He goes, ‘Good. Let’s just play the game and let’s go.’ He turned around and went back to first base and I went, ‘Oh, thank you!’”

Barr was McCovey’s teammate for a combined five years — before and after McCovey’s tenure with the Padres. “I got to play five years with him,” Barr said, “and then I had to play three or four years against him. It was interesting.”

Barr was on the mound May 18, 1974, when McCovey played his first game at Candlestick Park since being traded. The Giants scheduled a Willie McCovey bat and helmet giveaway day for the occasion. On his second at-bat, McCovey lined a home run over the left field fence. But Barr doesn’t rank that as his most memorable confrontation with his friend. For that, we have to drop in on a Giants-Padres spring training game in 1974.

“We’re at Phoenix Municipal Stadium,” Barr said. “Mac is with the Padres. He comes up and hits a ball hard. It goes high over the second baseman’s head — I mean, this ball is going to go 20, 30, 40 feet over the right field fence. It’s a home run no doubt.

“But as it crossed over the second baseman’s head, all of a sudden, the ball starts to flutter and it falls to the ground. The right fielder picks it up, throws it in. The infielder throws it in to me. I look at the ball and half the cover has come undone. The cover’s just hanging there.

“Literally, McCovey hit the cover right off the ball.”

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