Willie McGee, the center fielder who batted .294 with 1,683 hits and 301 stolen bases in 13 years with St. Louis, will be honored by the Cardinals in ceremonies before the Friday, Aug. 26, game against the Pirates at Busch Stadium. In tribute to McGee, here are five fun facts about his Cardinals career:
McGEE VS. CARLTON
Twice, McGee hit two home runs in a game. Most remember the two homers he ripped against ex-Cardinal Pete Vuckovich in Game 3 of the 1982 World Series against the Brewers in Milwaukee. What may not be so well-known are the two homers he hit against another ex-Cardinal, Steve Carlton.
On July 21, 1986, at St. Louis, Carlton, 41, who had been released by the Phillies in June after 15 seasons with Philadelphia, was making his third start for the Giants.
McGee, who would hit just seven home runs in 1986, hit a solo shot into the upper deck in left off Carlton in the first inning and added a two-run blast to right-center in the fourth, tying the score at 3-3. The Cardinals went on to win, 8-3 Boxscore
“I wasn’t swinging for homers,” McGee told the Associated Press. “I was just trying to hit the ball good and just trying to do my job.”
LAUNCH OF LA RUSSA ERA
McGee was the first batter in the first regular-season game managed by Tony La Russa with the Cardinals.
Batting leadoff against Bobby Jones, McGee grounded out to shortstop in the first inning of the season opener against the Mets on a rainy, cold April 1, 1996, at New York.
McGee, playing right field, went 2-for-5 with 3 RBI and 2 runs scored. In the fourth, he smacked a three-run homer off Jones, giving St. Louis a 6-0 lead before the Mets rallied for a 7-6 victory.
McGee, who made the first out of the game, also made the last out of the game, grounding out to shortstop Rey Ordonez, who made a diving stop of a ball up the middle. Boxscore
HELLO, MAD HUNGARIAN
McGee, called up to the Cardinals from Class AAA Louisville in May 1982, went hitless in his first four big-league at-bats. He broke through in dramatic fashion against the Braves on May 13, 1982, at Atlanta.
In the fifth inning, the Cardinals led 6-5 and had the bases loaded with one out. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog called on McGee, a switch-hitter, to pinch-hit for Tito Landrum, a right-handed batter due to face right-handed pitcher Preston Hanna, even though Landrum already had three RBI in the game.
Braves manager Joe Torre countered by lifting Hanna and bringing in left-hander Al Hrabosky, the former Cardinals closer. McGee greeted the “Mad Hungarian” with a RBI-single to left. St. Louis went on to a 10-9 victory. Boxscore
Asked about his decision to lift Landrum for McGee, Herzog told the Associated Press, “It worked, didn’t it?”
Said McGee: “That was my first big-league hit and I’ve got to feel pretty good about it. I know I can play defense and run the bases. I just hope I can get some bat experience.”
By mid-summer of 1982, McGee had become the everyday center fielder and was sparking St. Louis toward its first postseason appearance in 15 years.
On July 20, 1982, at St. Louis, the Braves scored five runs in the first against John Stuper. The Cardinals came back with six runs in the bottom of the first. The big blow was McGee’s first big-league home run, a grand slam off fellow rookie Ken Dayley. Boxscore
Dayley would be traded to the Cardinals in 1984 and would team with McGee to help the Cardinals win two more pennants.
THE LAST HOME RUN
On July 26, 1998, at Denver, after entering the game as a replacement for left fielder John Mabry in the eighth, McGee slammed a solo home run off Dave Veres (a future Cardinals closer) with two out in the ninth, helping St. Louis to a 3-1 victory over the Rockies. It was the first homer Veres had yielded since May 31. Boxscore
McGee would have 51 more at-bats in 1998 and 271 at-bats in 1999, but he never would hit another big-league home run.