In my mind’s, I occasionally try to conjure up a picture of Wes Covington’s batting stance. I try to figure out how a player can hold the bat horizontal to the ground, yet as high as his chin. I try to figure out how a player who holds hit bat like that can hit for power. I can only assume he must have been hunched over, leaning over the plate. How would it work otherwise? It must have been something to see. Virtually every paragraph written about Wes Covington that I could find on the internet mentions his batting stance. Kids loved to imitate it.
He was also known for wasting time at the plate. There was no part of his uniform that didn’t need adjusting. There was dirt that needed to be knocked off his spikes with the barrel of his bat. His shoes needed to be tied and retied. He had to get his cap just right and there was always dirt that had to be wiped off his hands. He was known to drive opposing pitchers to distraction. I’m shocked that Bob Gibson or Don Drysdale never clocked him for it.
More than anything, I wanted to see video of his batting stance. I wanted to see exactly how he put that unorthodox swing together. I wanted to see his routine before stepping into the batter’s box. I didn’t get that chance through. There’s so much great MLB footage available from yesteryear, but MLB clamps down hard on anyone who tries to use it. If you ever see old-time footage you enjoy on You Tube, my advice would be to save it as soon as possible before MLB arranges to have it taken down.
It wouldn’t bother me so much if MLB did a better job of making the footage available. Sure, I can search the video at the MLB web site and find footage of Aaron’s 715. I can see snippets of Koufax’s perfect game. I can see a number of Mickey Mantle’s home runs. These are all great of course. There’s no doubt that footage of the superstars is the most in demand. Still, for a sport that celebrates its history as much as baseball, it’s a shame that I can’t find any footage of player like Covington. I can’t even find footage of his two great catches in the 1957 World Series.
It’s also been difficult to find any photographs of Covington’s unique batting stance. It would appear that most photographers who posed him with a bat had him hold his bat like virtually every other player did. Topps in particular has really let me down on this one. Covington has any number of excellent baseball cards from his period with the Braves, and yet none of them show the stance that so many remember.
Some of the cards are just great though. I love the 1960 Topps card. As great as the small black and white photo on the card is, the color portrait sets it apart. That’s as cocky a smile as you’ll ever see. The photo on his 1957 Topps card is likewise great, even if the photograph appears posed rather than an actual shot of his follow through. I especially like the 1959 All Star card. Not every player who spent his career as largely a platoon player got an All Star card, but Covington was there in the 1959 set featured alongside greats such as Willie Mays and Stan Musial. It’s hard to top that.
A few weeks ago, reader Pete Hisey wrote to me to tout Wes Covington’s 1961 Topps card as not only his personal best, but one of the great cards of any Braves player. Certainly, Covington’s last card in a Braves uniform, as this card was, is his personal best. The red in the Braves uniform looks great. Covington is giving the camera a knowing look as he selects a bat. I’ve always found the 1961 Topps design to be a bit boring, so the success of each individual card relies on the quality of the photograph. This one is a keeper for sure.
Wes Covington is one of those guys who was known as all bat, no field. For Braves fans though, it was his glove in the 1957 World Series for which he’ll be most fondly remembered. In the bottom of the second inning of game 2, the Braves had Lew Burdette on the mound. He had already given up a run when Jerry Coleman singled in Enos Slaughter. With Tony Kubek on second and Coleman on first, Yankees pitcher Bobby Shantz scorched a line drive into left field. Covington had been playing shallow and the ball looked to get past him. Against all odds, it hung in the air long enough for him to catch the ball back-handed over his head. The catch saved two runs in a game the Braves would go on to win 4–2. A loss that day would have set the Braves back two games to none against the Yankees. It wouldn’t be the last time he’s be Burdette’s good luck charm in the series.
Through the first four games, the Braves and Yankees were tied up at two games each. In game 5, the Braves would send Burdette back on the hill to square off against Yankee great Whitey Ford. A pitcher’s duel was expected and the game did not disappoint. In the top of the fourth, he would make one of the great catches off the bat of Gil McDougald. The pitch from Burdette was lined deep to left and Covington had to run after the fly for all he was worth. With his glove hand outstretched, he would catch up with the ball in the same instance that he smacked into the wall. Even Covington didn’t know he had caught the ball until he got up. It was a spectacular moment and was captured in a wonderful series of photographs.
When all is said and done, Covington had an interesting career. He roomed with the future home run king. He endured the racism that dominated the Sally League in the 1950s and rose above it. He captured a World Series ring. He played with Hall of Famers. He had fun. He was popular in the clubhouse and with the fans everywhere he played throughout his career. (Well, with everyone except Gene Mauch.) Covington passed away last year after a battle with cancer. While he had stepped away from the Major Leagues, he never left baseball behind as he represented the Edmonton Trappers as a goodwill ambassador. There’s even a street named after him in Orlando, Florida. He may not be the first name off your tongue when mentioning the Braves greats, but he was one.