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Best rookie: McCovey or Puig?

Few players have had such a start as the Giants’ Willie McCovey. The 21-year-old first baseman introduced himself to the baseball world with a two-single, two-triple four-for-four day against the Phillies and future Hall of Fame pitcher Robin Roberts on July 30, 1959. In 52 games, McCovey was 68 for 192 with 38 RBIs, nine doubles, five triples and 13 home runs. He had 22 walks and 35 strikeouts. His OBP was .429 and his slugging average was .656.

Puig’s debut on June 3 was respectable, but not remarkable when compared to McCovey, as the Dodgers’ 22-year-old outfielder had two singles off Eric Stults of San Diego in four at bats. Puig has put up numbers that rival or surpass McCovey since then, although he is at an obvious advantage because he is playing more games. After 60 games, Puig was 86 for 229, with 26 RBIs, 14 doubles, two triples and 11 home runs. He had 23 walks and 60 strikeouts. His OBP was .444 and his slugging average was .598. Puig has come down a bit since his torrid start, hitting just .139 over one nine-game stretch.

McCovey’s numbers weren’t enough to carry the Giants. He debuted while the Giants were in second place, a half-game behind the Dodgers. The Giants went just 28-26 the rest of the way, and finished third. The Dodgers went on to win the NL flag and the World Series. The Dodgers were 23-32, 8-1/2 games out and in fifth place when Puig played his first game. Since then, the Dodgers have gone 53-21, and taken a 9-game lead.

McCovey was a unanimous selection as rookie of the year. If Puig had debuted that same season, would he have beaten McCovey out of that honor? Another thing to consider: Would the voters have been influenced negatively by Puig’s series of miscues and tantrums? The young phenom has showed up late on a game day, missed cutoff men, got carelessly picked off, displayed an almost out-of-control anger over an umpire’s call and failed to run hard out of the box on a long fly because he assumed the ball was leaving the park. Those are traits that didn’t seem to part of McCovey’s game. In a night game at Candlestick Park in 1960, McCovey launched a high, but routine fly to Dodgers outfielder Duke Snider, who lost it in the thick San Francisco fog. McCovey, who had to be running hard from the outset,  ended up at third. It would be interesting to see if Puig would have gotten that far.


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