Strap yourselves in, ladies and gentleman. For today, we will delve into the careers of one of the most beloved players in Cardinals history, and one of the most humble players in baseball history.
Today, on “The Cooperstown case”, we are going to look at Willie McGee.
His moments are forever etched into the hearts and minds of Cardinals fans, so much so that we included two of them in the photo above this article. He was the 1985 National League MVP, a four-time All-Star, and played a pivotal role in the “Whiteyball” era.
The question is (just as it’s been in the five previous cases): is he deserving of induction into Cooperstown?
Let’s take a closer look to find out.
McGee made his debut with the Cardinals on May 10th, 1982. During his rookie season, McGee played in 123 games, but was not too huge of a factor in the team’s success. In his rookie year, McGee batted .296, with 4 home runs and 56 RBI’s.
However, in the postseason, manager Whitey Herzog threw his 23-year old rookie into the mix, and it paid off big time. During Game 3 of the 1982 World Series, McGee had himself one of the best performances in World Series history. He hit two home runs in that game (which was rare considering he was definitely not known for his power), and even more famously robbed Gorman Thomas of a home run in the ninth inning.
St, Louis wound up winning the game and the series four games to three.
Herzog said (in regards to the catch): “I don’t know if anyone has ever played a better World Series game than Willie. If he doesn’t make that catch in the ninth, Mr. Sutter’s in trouble.”
The fast, versatile McGee was a perfect fit in Herzog’s style of baseball, known as “Whiteyball” (as mentioned above”.
“Whiteyball” relied more on speed and line drives than flat out power. That’s why players such as Vince Coleman, Ozzie Smith, Tom Herr, Jack Clark, and McGee were longtime members during the era. Each one helped make the 1980’s one of the best decades in Cardinals history.
In his first eight seasons with the Cardinals, McGee played in 11039 games, notched 1194 hits, 172 doubles, 71 triples, 49 home runs, 483 RBI’s, and 246 stolen bases. His total batting average was .292, OBP of .325, slugging percentage of .405, and an OPS of .731. McGee was a reliable presence in the outfield (though he also played in the infield), committing 108 errors over a durable 18-year career.
McGee had a .976 career fielding % and from 1983 to 1990 finished in the top 5 among NL outfielders in the category of Range Factor/Game as an OF. In 1986, McGee led the NL in Fielding % as an OF (.991).
He also hit for the cycle in 1984 against the Chicago Cubs.
Arguably his best season came in 1985, the year he won the National League MVP Award. In that season, McGee was first in the NL in batting average (with an average of .353, the second highest mark by a switch hitter in NL history), hits (216) and triples (18). He also ranked third in the National League with 114 runs scored and 56 stolen bases. For his accomplishments in ’85, McGee was awarded a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Award.
The Cardinals reached the World Series once again in ’85, but ultimately fell short.
At this point, Herzog decided to switch things up and then put McGee, in the prime of his career, fifth in the batting order.
McGee responded with a 105-RBI season.
After Herzog retired in 1990, the new Cardinals management traded the fan-favorite to Oakland, a move met with negative reactions. However, he did not last long in Oakland, soon going to San Francisco for the next four seasons. In that span, he notched 483 hits and a .301 batting average.
His career never wavered or declined sharply, and it was a welcomed addition in 1996 when he returned home to St. Louis, as he finished out his career with the team he began it with. The plate appearances dropped, but the heart and effort remained.
Overall in his 18-year career, McGee hit 79 home runs, 2254 hits, 350 doubles, 94 triples, 856 RBI’s, stole 352 bases, and a career average of .295.
What we’re here to find out is: should he be in Cooperstown?
His number has never been officially retired (though you can check this article I wrote regarding that issue: https://archcity.media/2016/03/23/willie-mcgees-number-deserves-retired/). But when the fans had the choice of the first choice of their own into the Cardinals Hall of Fame, none other than McGee was the first choice.
If there were a record for most curtain calls in baseball, he’d definitely be in the top five. His impact on a revolutionary style of baseball was exceptional, but unfortunately for him the stats do not line up as well with his contemporaries at the same position.
It’s a tough call to make, but even if he is not Cooperstown worthy, he’s in the Cardinals Hall of Fame, and in the hearts of millions forever.