Humble McGee worthy of spot in Cardinals Hall of Fame
Two-time National League batting champion won 1985 NL MVP Award with St. Louis
In 18 years in the Major Leagues, Willie McGee accumulated four National League All-Star nods, three NL Gold Glove Awards, an NL Silver Slugger Award, an NL MVP Award and a pair of NL batting titles, among numerous other accomplishments -- none of which he desired.
McGee was honored to have received them, but he never played for the accolades. He loved the game and believed he was paid to play it to the best of his ability.
Even 15 years after retiring from the game, McGee's mentality remains unchanged. He's in position to add another accolade to his resume as one of eight candidates for the new Cardinals Hall of Fame, and although the humble former outfielder would likely divert the spotlight to one of his fellow nominees, McGee was leading the pack with 33.29 percent of the fan vote in the first released results.
"It's a great opportunity for a lot of players to get more recognition," McGee said. "But like I always say, I'll still sleep well whether I've got a trophy or a plaque.
"Bottom line is, I know that I went out there and gave 110 percent every day for the 20 years I had the opportunity to play. To me, that's what it's all about, [but] I appreciate the recognition."
Fans can go to cardinals.com to vote for up to two of the eight candidates -- McGee, Jim Edmonds, Bob Forsch, Keith Hernandez, Mark McGwire, Matt Morris, Ted Simmons or Joe Torre -- until Tuesday.
The two leading vote-getters will be enshrined during an Aug. 16 ceremony at Ballpark Village, joining the 22 Cardinals who received automatic induction because they are either already in the National Baseball Hall of Fame or have had their number retired by the Cards.
Initially a first-round Draft pick of the Yankees in 1977, McGee was traded to St. Louis in '81, and he made his big league debut in May '82. But it was in the postseason where he really burst onto the national scene.
The rookie belted a pair of home runs in Game 3 of the 1982 World Series en route to the Cardinals winning it all.
"The greatest memory was the seventh game," McGee said. "Winning that game and winning that championship -- I haven't had a feeling like that all my life and probably never will again."
McGee would earn his first All-Star recognition the following season, and posted a very respectable .290 combined batting average in his first three seasons.
But in 1985, McGee eclipsed that mark in a big way, hitting .353 with 26 doubles, 18 triples, 10 homers, 82 RBIs and 56 stolen bases. His stellar regular season earned him NL MVP Award honors, a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.
For McGee, the breakout campaign was a long time coming. He believed his ascent actually began years earlier in Double-A.
"I didn't know if I was big league-ready, but I didn't have to think about things out there on the field. Pretty much it was just a reaction," McGee said. "And to get to that point in '85, [where] you just know you're going to go out there and hit the ball hard two or three times a game -- everything just fell into place."
McGee played eight seasons in St. Louis before he was traded to the A's on Aug. 29 1990. He earned his second NL batting title that season by hitting .335 before the deal.
McGee finished out the 1990 season in Oakland, then signed as a free agent with the Giants. He spent four years with San Francisco and one with the Red Sox before returning to the Redbirds in 1995 for the final four seasons of his career.
"It wasn't planned; it just happened, and I'm grateful for it," McGee said. "My whole career, things just seemed to work out for the best at crucial points.
"It couldn't have worked out better to finish your career where you started in a great baseball city."
Though he resides in Northern California, McGee is still very much a Cardinal. He serves as a special assistant to general manager John Mozeliak and spends about a week out of every month as an instructor in one of the club's Minor League cities.
Even when McGee is at home, he's still working in the game by coaching Little League, fast-pitch softball and junior college teams.
"I love it. I love baseball, always have. That's what I know," McGee said. "I'm always on the field somewhere."
Chad Thornburg is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.