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McGee Gives the Cards a Hot Hand : He Leads League in Batting and His Fielding's Fine, Too

September 22, 1985|Associated Press

ST. LOUIS — Style as well as stats tell the story of Willie McGee.

Almost languidly, he peeks at pitchers from a leaning, semi-open stance.

A switch-hitter, his quick hands and supple wrists drive the ball to every field, leaving pitchers puzzling over what to throw.

"There's no special formula. I just see the ball and try to hit it," said the St. Louis Cardinals' star center fielder. "We all owe the fans something, and we owe it to ourselves to do our very best."

He is the very best, in National League batting. McGee has led that category for most of the season and carried a sizzling .362 percentage into last weekend. His nearest league rival, Pedro Guerrero of the Los Angeles Dodgers, was 41 points behind.

Even .362 is on the low side for McGee. In August, when he was the NL's Player of the Month, McGee batted a whopping .436.

"He keeps going. Right now there's no way, if the season stopped right now, that he couldn't be MVP in the National League," said shortstop Ozzie Smith, McGee's closest friend on the team.

"He's done it all. He's been hitting and playing defense. I said in spring training that this was going to be the season when he would blossom, and that's what he's done."

"He's an amazing young person," said Cards' Manager Whitey Herzog. "What's funny is he might look so bad one time at bat, then he'll get up against the same pitcher and hit great."

Herzog says he always thought the 26-year-old McGee was destined to be great.

Apparently, the New York Yankees never felt that way.

McGee was in the Yankee farm system for five years, but they were unable to find a place for him on their major league roster. So New York struck a deal that sent McGee to the Cards for pitcher Bob Sykes, shortstop Bobby Meacham and a minor leaguer.

The Cards dispatched McGee to Louisville of the American Association, but called him up in May 1982, earlier than expected. Reason: David Green, the Cards' rookie outfielder, sustained a pulled hamstring.

Thanks to McGee's performance, however, Green lost his job as a starter. In 123 games, McGee hit .296 as St. Louis made it to the World Series for the first time in 14 years.

McGee hit .286 for St. Louis in 1983 and .291 last season.

"When he came up, everyone talked about what a speed merchant he was," said Chicago Cub Manager Jim Frey. "He's more than that now. I think he's one of the best players in the league."

With the season heading into its final weeks, McGee also leads the NL in hits (193) and triples (16), is second in runs (104) and game-winning RBI (17) and fourth in stolen bases (47).

Indeed, his contributions are a big part of St. Louis' hope for overcoming the New York Mets in a tight NL East pennant race.

"We're human. We can't win every game. We're going to be out there doing our best," he said. "The best team is going to come through. Youth is in our favor."

If he continues at his current clip, McGee is almost certain to become the Cards' first league batting champion since Keith Hernandez in 1979. He also has a chance to eclipse the .365 all-time high batting average for switch-hitters set by Mickey Mantle in 1957.

He dismisses it all, saying: "It's not real important, it's not important at all. It's an honor, but we've still got a ways to go."

Herzog, meanwhile, has every confidence in him.

"It's hard to say what he can hit. He's learning constantly (and) nobody can field any better than Willie. He could, I suppose, wind up being the best center fielder since Willie Mays."

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