Former Phillies slugger Wes Covington dies at 79

The Phillies' offense in 1964 was powered by (from left) Wes Covington, Frank Thomas, Richie Allen, and Johnny Callison.
The Phillies' offense in 1964 was powered by (from left) Wes Covington, Frank Thomas, Richie Allen, and Johnny Callison. (File photograph)
Posted: July 20, 2011

Wes Covington, a powerful outfielder on the ill-fated 1964 Phillies team whose unorthodox batting stance was mimicked by a generation of young Philadelphians, died July 4 in Edmonton, Alberta, where he had made his home for decades.

Mr. Covington, 79, who hit 131 home runs in 11 big-league seasons, succumbed to cancer, according to family members.

A North Carolina native who was signed by the Boston Braves in 1952, Mr. Covington, at his first minor-league stop in Eau Claire, Wis., initially overshadowed his teammate, future Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

"If people had known that one of our players would someday be the all-time major-league home-run leader, everybody would have assumed that Covington would be the guy," Aaron wrote in his 1990 autobiography, If I Had a Hammer.

Both eventually shared the outfield with the champion Milwaukee Braves in 1957, when Mr. Covington, never renowned for his defense, made two spectacular World Series plays against the New York Yankees - robbing Bobby Shantz and Gil McDougal.

In 1961, the Braves placed Mr. Covington on waivers. He played for the Chicago White Sox and Kansas City that year before the Phillies acquired him for outfielder Bobby Del Greco in midseason.

A lefthanded hitter who, as broadcaster By Saam was fond of noting, "was no gazelle," Mr. Covington was platooned but still played in more than 100 games in each of his four full seasons with Gene Mauch's Phillies. His best year came in 1963, when he hit .303 with 17 home runs and 64 RBIs.

A year later, he was a regular on the Phillies team that led the National League all season until a 10-game losing streak with just 12 to play doomed it to eternal infamy. In 129 games that year, he hit .280 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs.

Mr. Covington was one of that team's most popular players, both in the clubhouse and in the stands. Young Phillies fans loved to copy his unique batting stance - crouched over with bat held parallel to the ground. But he and the volatile Mauch clashed often.

Mr. Covington did not enjoy being platooned, and said so often. Mauch, in turn, termed the outfielder a player prone to "pop off and pop up."

The Phils traded him after the 1965 season for Cubs outfielder Doug Clemens. Mr. Covington also played with the Los Angeles Dodgers before retiring at season's end.

He moved to Edmonton, where, for more than two decades, he served as the Edmonton Sun's advertising manager.


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068, ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com, or @philafitz on Twitter. Read his blog, Giving 'Em Fitz, at www.philly.com/fitz.

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