Nation Magazine has a special “sports issue” within which various lefty writers give tribute to their favorite sports heroes – most of them from childhood when we are most influenced by them.  Likewise, my favorite sports hero played during my childhood, and I’ll discuss him in a minute.

If you were to ask me about my second favorite hero I would be hard-pressed for an answer.  Obviously we look for character as well as skill, and perhaps we look to deeds off the playing field/court.  Obviously figures which broke the racial barriers qualify such as Joe Louis, Jackie Robinson, Arthur Ashe, and…. well almost, Tiger Woods.  We look to Billie Jean King and Shirley Muldowney for examples breaking sexual molds.  Or figures like Greg Louganis who won a host of Gold Medals including a performance in which he continued to compete after splitting his head open on the diving platform, and yet was deemed lacking in character and heroism required for the Wheaties recognition because of rumors, later confirmed, of his homosexuality.  We have war heroes like Pat Tillman, made even more famous by military controversy rendering him popular even among anti-war activists.

I always liked Rams quarterback Pat Hayden who succeeded despite being short (for an NFL quarterback), and while becoming a Rhodes Scholar.

There are heroes whose careers suffered at least setbacks due to brave political stands such as Muhammed Ali, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, and even to a lesser degree John McEnroe who turned down a match against Bjorn Borg in South Africa to honor the boycott of the time – the winner would have taken home one million, the loser $750,000 (Borg had accepted the invitation).  By the way, if you’re interested, here is a list of sports figures with their campaign donations.  Seems like tennis players (except former teen star Andrea Jaeger who is now a nun and gave to the GOP) and basketball players tend to be liberal, while golf players, car racers, and football coaches (except Bear Bryant, who was a liberal?) tend to be conservative.  And there are a few on the list who can’t seem to make up their mind on what their politics are, or completely ignore ideology if they like a particular pol.  The link for former Bengals quarterback Boomer Essiason is broken, which makes me curious.  He was quite a vocal supporter of the NFL strikers despite a number of quarterbacks (who were of course the best paid) crossing the picket line prompting him to call Joe Montana a “scab.”  Of interest in the political evolution department, tennis star Pam Shriver appears to have abandoned her conservative roots – donating to Republicans in her youth, but Democrats later in life, including a donation to Maxine Waters!

Anyway, enough of that.  My favorite sports hero is…. Willie McCovey.  He exemplified the rags-to-riches phenomena coming from very humble roots.  I was only really into baseball from the second grade to about the fifth, when he was traded from the Giants to the Padres.  I went to several games a year at Candlestick, and always looked forward to the number 44 visible from our usual seats behind first base.  He was a clutch hitter in so many instances.   In his last years Willie Mays batted third before McCovey’s “cleanup,” and if Mays made it to second base McCovey was most often walked.

This is a pure sports pic.  I mean, other than being a nice guy off the field, his heroism for me is purely on the field and laced with nostalgia.  He was there for me at a formative time of childhood.  I began to lose interest as a fan when he was traded.  I still watched games, but once Bonds, Sr., Tito Fuentes, Juan Marichal, Chris Speier, and McCovey had moved on to other teams or retirement, I stopped going to the green pages every morning to check the stats and standings.  McCovery actually came back to the Giants briefl, but as I moved into teen years, I got into other things and didn’t pay as much attention.  The Giants always choked anyway.

So who was/is your favorite sports hero and why?