Thursday, November 24, 2011

#49 Willie McGee

Card: This is Willie McGee's rookie card.

Pic:  A great action shot of McGee returning to first base as Dave Kingman plays first base.  The inset picture is not the most flattering.  They used a similar picture for his '86 card.
Topps has a history of not always portraying players at their best.

Player:  Willie McGee was a first round pick in the '77 winter draft by the Yankees.  After five seasons in their system the speedster was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for Bob Sykes.  The Cardinals called McGee up in May of '82 and by June he was the everyday centerfielder.  McGee batted over .300 for most of the year before a September slump dropped his final average to .296.  McGee batted .308 with a homer in the Cards three game sweep of the Braves in the NLCS.  The 23 year-old stepped up in game three of the World Series against the Brewers, belting two home runs and making a spectacular catch in centerfield.  The Cardinals won the series and McGee finished third in Rookie of the Year voting.

McGee's start to the '83 season was delayed 14 games with a shoulder separation but he rebounded to be named to his first All-Star team.  McGee batted .286, with 39 steals and won the first of three Gold Gloves in his career.  The '84 campaign was very similar as McGee batted .291 with 43 stolen bases.  Batting behind fellow burner Vince Coleman, McGee had a career year in '85 as he won the NL batting crown with a .353 batting average.  The switch-hitter also led the league in triples with 18 and in hits with 216.  McGee added 56 stolen bases and scored 114 runs as well.   McGee had seven hits in both the NLCS (Cards over the Dodgers in six games) and the World Series loss to the Royals.  McGee's fine regular season earned him the NL MVP award.

McGee slumped and battled injuries in '86 as he batted .256, a drop of .097 from his league best average the year prior.  In the '87 season, McGee found himself batting fifth in the Cards lineup and he responded with a career high 59 extra base hits (37-11-11) and 105 RBI.  McGee had an excellent post season, netting 18 hits in 14 games against the Giants and eventual World Series champion Twins.  McGee had a nice '88 campaign with a .292 average and 41 steals but lost most of the '89 season to injury and batted only .236.

McGee rebounded in '90 and was batting .335 when he was traded to the Oakland A's on August 29 for Felix Jose and two others.  McGee batted .274 for his new team as the A's won the AL West.  McGee batted a disappointing 4 for19 in the postseason as the Reds knocked off the A's.  At the time of his trade, McGee had already accumulated enough at bats for the batting crown.  McGee's .335 mark held and he won the second batting title of his career. 

In the off-season, McGee signed a four year deal with his home town San Fransisco Giants.  McGee played between 130 and 138 games each of the next three years for the Giants.  His batting average ranged from .297 to .312.  By the '94 season, McGee had slowed down, with only 40 stolen bases total over the past three years and had shifted from center to left field.  A torn achilles limited his '94 season to 45 games as he batted .282.  McGee's was a healing free agent in '95 and did not sign with the Red Sox until June.  McGee played semi-regularly and batted .285 for Boston.  McGee went 1-4 in the ALDS loss to the Indians. 

McGee returned to the Cardinals in '96 as a reserve and pinch hitter and his veteran presence and .307 average contributed to the Cardinals winning the division.  McGee went 1-10 in the NLDS win over the Padres but had a strong NLCS, albeit in a losing effort, batting 5-15 against the Braves.  McGee continued as a fourth outfielder / pinch hitter role over three more seasons batting .300, .253, and .251 before retiring in 1999 at age 40.

Flipside:  McGee also had two-four hit games in '82, stealing a base in each.

Oddball:  Even though McGee's .335 led the National League in batting average in 1990, he finished the year with a combined major league average of .324.  Eddie Murray batted .330 for the Dodgers and George Brett .329 for the Royals.  This was an odd situation where the player who led the major leagues in hitting, Eddie Murray, didn't win a batting title in either league.
Former teammate John Morris does a spot on impersonation of McGee's batting stance and swing here.
Many people know that Howard Cosell nicknamed McGee "E.T." after the movie alien during a national TV broadcast, but McGee and his family hated the nickname and considered it insensitive.

History:  Willie McGee is beloved by Cardinals fans for his humble nature as much as his baseball ability.  There is a petition to get his number 51 retired in St. Louis.  Over his 18 year career, McGee won a world series, an MVP award, two batting titles, two gold gloves, a silver slugger, and was named to four all-star teams.  McGee retired with a .295 batting average, 2,254 hits, and 352 stolen bases. 
McGee has a nice tribute website which provided a lot of info for this post. 

1 comment:

  1. I will never forget seeing Willie's catch in the Series. My buddies and I loved the cards and would imitate that catch and George Hendricks' batting stance over and over. What a great squad! Nice write up about Mr McGee!