Add Willie McGee’s name to the long list of prospects that the New York Yankees foolishly traded for spare parts. A former first round draft pick by the Yankees, McGee was used as trade bait to land Bob Sykes from the Cardinals. Willie would go on to win three Gold Gloves, make four All-Star teams and win a pair of batting titles during his tenure with the Cardinals.
The fleet-footed McGee was a rookie star with the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals. The switch-hitter hit .296, swiped 24 bases and helped the Redbirds make the postseason. In the NLCS against Atlanta, Willie legged out a pair of triples, hit .308 and drove home five runs. About as good in the World Series, Willie, never known for much power, socked a pair of dingers and chased five teammates across the plate, leading the Redbirds to a World Series victory over the Brewers. In a great class of rookies, Willie finished third, behind two solid second basemen, Steve Sax and Johnny Ray, while finishing ahead of such luminaries as Ryne Sandberg, Chili Davis, Steve Bedrosian and Dave LaPoint.
Willie didn’t suffer from the sophomore jinx in 1983. Named to his first All-Star squad, McGee stole 39 bases and also netted his first Gold Glove Award. In 1984, the speedy McGee hit .291 and tied Marvell Wynne for the most triples by a National League center fielder. But Mr. McGee was just getting warmed up. In 1985, he won the National League MVP Award.
Willie won a batting title in 1985 with a robust .353 batting average. The switch-hitter also led the senior circuit in hits and triples while enjoying his lone 100+ runs scored season. His 56 steals, a career high, led NL center fielders, as he carried his Cardinals into the postseason. McGee scored six runs in the NLCS. In the all Missouri World Series against the Royals, he socked a homerun in a losing effort.
Willie put a poor 1986 season behind him by flourishing in 1987. That year he led NL center fielders with 105 RBI while posting double-digit totals in all the extra base hit departments. The Cardinals ran their way to another World Series and Willie hit Minnesota pitching at a .370 clip, but in a losing cause. The following season, 1988, Willie made his last All-Star team by leading NL center fielders in batting average.
1989 was a lost season for Willie due to injury. The Cardinals were quickly sinking and decided to go with youth in 1990, so at the end of the season, with Willie hitting a lusty .335, the Cardinals traded the batting champion to the A’s for youngsters Felix Jose and Stan Royer. Oakland brought in McGee for some stretch drive heroics and he supplied some by scoring a run in every ALCS contest. In his fourth World Series, Willie and his teammates struggled against the Reds and Cincinnati made short work of the Oakland A’s.
Willie ventured home in 1991, signing a free agent contract with his hometown San Francisco Giants. In his first year in familiar confines, Willie was the NL’s lone .300 hitting center fielder. McGee followed up his ’91 season with a .297 batting average in 1992 and a .301 mark in 1993. His 1994 season was cut short due to injury, as well as the player’s strike and he was granted free agency after the season.
McGee spent one year in Boston before returning to the land of his greatest success: St. Louis. He hit .307 for the Cardinals in 1996 and was the lone .300 hitter on the Redbirds roster in 1997. In 1998, Willie served as a valuable fourth outfielder/pinch hitter for Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals before announcing his retirement.
G 2,201/R 1,010/H 2,254/2B 350/3B 94/HR 79/RBI 856/BB 448/SO 1,238/SB 352/BA .295/SA .396