The 1985 St. Louis Cardinals remain one of the most popular teams in franchise history. In a season where ‘The Heat Was On,’ no player on the team was hotter offensively than Willie McGee. Our ’80s week coverage continues.
Already a fan-favorite from the 1982 World Series championship team, Willie McGee entered his fourth season with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1985 as one of the top players on the team. He had an All-Star Game appearance and Gold Glove to his name in 1983. In addition, he finished third in the 1982 Rookie of the Year award.
Yet few, not even Willie McGee himself, could have imagined how well the 1985 season would turn out for him nor the team itself. The Cardinals finished 101-61 and won both the division and pennant, on a team picked for last in the NL East by the Sporting News.
As for McGee, he finished with a slash line of .353/.384/.503. That .353 batting average was tops in the National League. He also finished 1985 with the most hits (216) and the most triples (18) in the NL as well. It was also the first time McGee finished with double-digit home run totals with 10 home runs.
On a team that featured speed and aggressive base-running under Whitey Herzog i.e. Whiteyball, McGee was a perfect fit. Aside from the 18 triples, McGee finished 4th in the entire league with 56 steals, behind teammate Vince Coleman’s league-leading 110 (!) steals. These statistics, along with the team finishing first in the NL East, earned him the National League MVP award.
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If you have not seen it, I encourage all Cardinals’ fans to watch the 1985 Cardinals documentary, Heck of a Year. Willie McGee briefly discusses his year at the 30:57 mark of the video.
Now it is important to note that sabermetrics were not used in MVP voting during the 1980s. There’s a good chance that if the vote happened today, it might have gone to Dwight Gooden, who’s 24-4 record, 1.53 ERA, and 268 strikeouts accumulated 8.9 fWAR. That total bested McGee’s 7.1 fWAR.
Or perhaps it could have gone to Pedro Guerrero, who finished the 1985 season tops in the National League in OBP (.422), SLG (.577), wOBA (.429), wRC+ (181).
None of this, of course, is to diminish the year Willie McGee had in 1985. Rather, McGee might have benefited from a lack of information voters did not have at the time. Besides, out of the many NL MVP award nominees, this one was not as controversial as others.
**cough** Andre Dawson ***cough*** 1987 ***cough***
Excuse me, there.
1985 was a truly special year for Redbirds fans. For Willie McGee, it was more than a career year. In a lineup with Ozzie Smith, Terry Pendleton, and Jack Clark, it was McGee who stood out the most. Not only did his play on the field earn him merit numerous baseball awards such as the MVP, Silver Slugger, and Gold Glove, he cemented himself as one of the most beloved players in team history.