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By Murray Greig
October 8, 2004
While superstars are an integral component of every championship club, it’s often the role players - the nuts and bolts guys who come through in the clutch - who make the difference with everything on the line.
In 1957 the Milwaukee Braves rode Hank Aaron's bat and Warren Spahn's arm to a World Series title. Aaron led the National League in homers (44) and RBIs (132), and won the MVP award, while Spahn's 21 wins and 2.69 ERA earned him the Cy Young.
But it was a pair of minor league call-ups - Wes Covington and Bob "Hurricane" Hazle - who sparked the Braves down the stretch. Patrolling left field, Covington belted 21 homers while extra outfielder Hazle hit .403 during July and August.
Covington's inspired play continued in the Series against the Yankees, highlighted by two defensive gems that helped preserve wins for Lew Burdette. In Game Two, he pulled off an improbable backhanded stab to take an extra-base hit away from Bobby Shantz, and in the fifth game, crashed into the fence to steal a homer from Gil McDougald.
A notorious "staller" at the plate, Covington would try anything to rattle the opposing pitcher before stepping in, from repeatedly adjusting his cap to meticulously retracing the batter's box. From 1956-61 he averaged .280 for the Braves, with 62 homers and 235 RBI.
After brief American League stops in Chicago and Kansas City, he returned to the senior circuit with Philadelphia, becoming one of the Phils’ most dangerous hitters (hitting .303 in '63), before finishing his career with the 1966 Dodgers.
Hitting .360 on May 17, 1963 against the Houston Colt .45s, Covington was to be Don Nottebart's final out in the first no-hitter in Houston franchise history. After Nottebart retired Johnny Callison and Tony Gonzalez, Covington lashed a sharp liner over short that required a spectacular running catch by Al Spangler to preserve the no-no.
After wrapping up his baseball career Covington moved to western Canada and operated a sporting goods business. He later became an advertising manager for the Edmonton Sun newspaper, a position he held for nearly 20 years. When the Edmonton Trappers joined the Pacific Coast League in the early 1980s, Covington returned to baseball as a promotions consultant and special ambassador for the club. In addition to his duties with the Sun, he was regularly involved in local youth charity work.
In 2003, at the invitation of the Braves Historical Association, Covington returned to Milwaukee for the first time in 40 years. The good-natured but reclusive 72-year-old thanked the fans who showed up for a testimonial dinner, and took a stab at explaining his reticence.
"People ask me 'why haven't you gone back to Milwaukee' and 'why haven't you done more in the game,’ but it's nothing against the city or the great fans," he said. "I just had other things I wanted to do with my life. My playing career is in the past; I always try to focus on the future. In order to do that, I had to be away from a major league city, away from the hype. I didn't want to be a baseball bum living in the past."
Murray Greig is a Canadian sportswriter and columnist at China Daily in Beijing. He's the author of five books, including the best-selling “Big Bucks & Blue Pucks: An anecdotal history of the World Hockey Association.”
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