By Doug Bruzzone
Special to S.F. Examiner
ORACLE PARK — Kevin Pillar won the Willie Mac Award on Friday night, completing an impressive first season in the orange and black.
The Giants have been giving out the award, named for Willie McCovey, since 1980. The award honors the most inspirational player on the team, as voted on by players, coaches, the training staff, and the fans. 17 former winners of the award were on hand to celebrate, including current Giants Will Smith (the 2018 winner), Brandon Crawford (2016), Madison Bumgarner (2014), and Buster Posey (2012).
Pillar is slashing .264/.291/.444 for the Giants this year after coming over to the team in an early season trade from the Blue Jays, and leads the team in just about every offensive counting stat, including plate appearances, hits, runs, RBIs, and homers. In addition, in a year filled with so much uncertainty and a constantly changing outfield configuration, he’s been in the lineup every day, a rock who his team and manager could depend on.
“What a huge honor it is to be awarded this year’s Willie Mac Award,” Pillar said, noting that he didn’t realize what a big deal the award was. “I accept this award with great respect and pride. First off, I’d like to thank Farhan for believing in me and trading for me and making me a Giant. Most importantly, I’d like to thank my teammates, coaching staff, clubhouse employees, training staff, and you, the fans for voting me this years willie mac award winner. This award means a lot to me and my family and it’s extra special when it comes from your peers.”
Pillar went on to thank his parents, who were in the crowd, his wife, for being so strong in a very difficult time in his career, and his daughter, who motivates him to be the best baseball player and man he can be every single day.
“Oh man, what a great job he’s done all year. Really, how durable he’s been,” Bochy said. “This man, he is just grinding this thing out from the day we got him. Both sides of the ball. Put him in right field and he did a nice job there, and Duggar got hurt and put him back in center. He’s played a terrific center field.”
Bochy summed up Pillar’s impact by saying simply, “He’s been a real pleasure for me.”
It was an emotional award ceremony, as it was the first one since the passing of its namesake on October 31 last year. Bruce Bochy, escorting McCovey’s wife Estela, presented the award.
“That man was so loved by the players in the clubhouse,” Bochy said before the game. “He’s such a gentleman, a real class man. A fun guy to have around the clubhouse, and loved baseball. He’s a big fan. He watched all these games. He knew everything about these players. He will be missed tonight. We’ll all be thinking about him.”
The Giants showed a pregame video tribute to McCovey, with interviews with Smith, Crawford, Bumgarner, Posey, and Bochy discussing how much both he and the award meant.
The starter for Sunday’s season finale is currently listed as TBA. Bochy confirmed that it is Madison Bumgarner’s day to pitch and that Bumgarner is fully healthy, and said that he would have more information after the game.