OUR MAJOR-LEAGUER

JJ Melton Staff writer, The Laurinburg Exchange, N.C.
·5 min read

Apr. 16—Courtesy photo

"One of his 1966 cards that stands out as a personal favorite," said Bruce Marksen in a 2011 article. "In one of Topps' famed multi-player cards, we see Covington standing with Phillies teammate Johnny Callison, their bats crossing each other. I once heard that crossed bats represented bad luck, but the pose didn't seem to bother the two Phillies corner outfielders, both of whom seem happy and relaxed."

Courtesy photo

Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews and outfielder Wes Covington hit back-to-back-to-back home runs against Ron Kline of the Pittsburgh Pirates on May 31, 1958.

Wes Covington ended his baseball career after appearing in his last World Series game in 1966, but what may be news to some is, his life and love of sports began in Laurinburg.

"Wes attended high school at the Laurinburg Institute," said Al Blades of Laurinburg. "He then transferred and graduated from Hillside High School in Durham, where he was a football star."

According to an article on sabr.org by Andy Sturgill, Covington got his start with baseball in the spring of 1950 on a local semipro team.

"In 1951, with the North Carolina team in need of an outfielder for the annual North Carolina-South Carolina High School Baseball All-Star Game, Covington was asked to play in the game despite the fact that he had never played high-school baseball," said Sturgill in his article. "Starting in left field for the North Carolina squad, Covington impressed Boston Braves scout Dewey Griggs enough to be offered a contract."

After some convincing, according to Sturgill, Covington decided to forgo any possible football future and give professional baseball a try.

"You know how it is," Covington said a few years after his start, "I needed a few dollars, they had a few dollars. Good deal. Besides, my wife, then my sweetheart, asked me to play baseball instead."

In 1952, Covington was assigned to the Class C Eau Claire, Wisconsin, Bears, where he first met teammate Hank Aaron.

Aaron was once quoted sas aying, "My closest friends on the Eau Clair Bears were Wes Covington and especially Julie Bowers. I often wonder what happened to Bowers. I haven't heard from since 1952."

According to Wikipedia, throughout his 11-year career, Covington was a .279 hitter, with 131 home runs and 499 RBI, had a .337 on-base percentage as well as a .466 slugging percentage in 1,075 games.

Also according to the sabr.org article, some hailed Covington as "the next Hank Aaron," but he refused to claim the title.

"You can't afford to take press clippings seriously," Covington said. "You have to make the club on the field, not in the newspapers, and you have to do it on your own. I'm not going to try to be another Aaron or another anybody else."

During a spring training game in 1958, Covington acquired a knee injury while sliding into second base. Wikipedia claims Covington got the reputation of being a poor fielder and a slow runner after his injuries.

"What someone else says about me being a bad outfielder doesn't bother me," said Covington in a past interview. "I've heard it all before. They don't pay outfielders for what they do with the glove."

Sturgill continued in his article saying, "The man who once had said his hobbies were 'hitting homers and making money' had handled his money well as a player and had numerous business operations outside of baseball as he transitioned into post-baseball life.

"He owned a barbecue restaurant in Philadelphia, held real estate in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Florida and had a business, Diamond Janitorial Services, that grew into one of Philadelphia's largest janitorial service companies," said Sturgill. "However, at some point in the late 1970s, tax issues had forced Covington and his wife to Canada."

The couple settled in Edmonton, Alberta, where Covington operated a sporting goods store and then spent nearly 20 years working in advertising for the Edmonton Sun."

Covington also became involved with the Triple-A Edmonton Trappers, according to Sturgill.

"In 2003 he returned to Milwaukee for the first time in 40 years at the invitation of the Braves Historical Society, and in 2007 he was one of 14 members of the 1957 champs to gather in Milwaukee to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Braves' world championship," Sturgill said.

Bruce Marksen claimed in an article on fansgraph.com in July 2011, the lack of revisiting wasn't that Covington felt bitter toward Milwaukee, or the game of baseball, he just did not want to become, in his words, "a baseball bum living in the past."

"A man with a humble heart, Covington didn't like talking about himself," said Marksen, "so it's left up to us writers and fans to talk about him now. Wes Covington, especially for fans tied to the history of the Milwaukee Braves, was an important player, a player worth remembering."

Covington died of cancer on July 4, 2011, in Edmonton. He was cremated after his death and his ashes were distributed among family and friends.

"Wes Covington was the third baseball player from Scotland County to make it to the major leagues," said Blades. "Covington proved that a small-town guy could make it to the big time. He was the first major-leaguer from Scotland County to play for a World Series championship."

JJ Melton can be reached at [email protected] To support the Laurinburg Exchange, subscribe here: https://www.laurinburgexchange.com/subscribe.