No Relation
May 16, 2014 11:06 AM   Subscribe

It's easy to explain why you love a conventionally excellent player, but way, way more fun to try and explain the appeal of a top-flight athlete whose every step and twitch appeared to be bringing him dangerously close to death itself. You had this guy, St. Louis, and he was awesome and everything, but every time he hit a triple he'd pop up and have the saddest look on his face like everything he loved had died, and left him with the soul of an ancient, sad, and immortal Golem. It was like watching Buster Keaton play centerfield, and he was like that every time he played.
SB Nation Reviews: Willie McGee
posted by davidjmcgee (43 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
When he got to the plate, he looked like he had just been beaten by angry people with truncheons, a crouched, stiff figure who didn't swing a bat so much as he threw it at the ball hoping for something to happen.

Now, that's good writing.
posted by Curious Artificer at 11:12 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

God damn do I love Willie McGee. Thanks for this.
posted by evisceratordeath at 11:16 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nice writing! I enjoy Willie McGee so much right now.
posted by jsturgill at 11:17 AM on May 16, 2014

During one error-binge in a 1990 season full of disastrous defense, he threw his glove over the wall and never asked for it back.

That just makes me sad for him.
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:18 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, my friend used to think it was the funniest joke in the world to sing, to the tune of "Raspberry Beret,"

I was workin' part time in a five-and-dime/and my boss was Willie McGee
posted by drjimmy11 at 11:19 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't much care about baseball at all (though did enjoy Moneyball), but the lead here sucked me into reading the article and I was not sorry for it. Fascinating character.
posted by Bovine Love at 11:19 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd point out that the the author is the also the proprietor of Every Day Should Be Saturday - AKA the only college football blog worth reading
posted by JPD at 11:21 AM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Between this piece and the Jon Bois pieces, I clearly need to re-evaluate SB Nation. This is wonderfully written.
posted by gladly at 11:25 AM on May 16, 2014

Spencer Hall is doing stuff with sports writing (and has been for a while) the way Rob Delaney was doing stuff with Twitter a few years back. He's fantastic.
posted by penduluum at 11:27 AM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

I love descriptions of awkward batters, for some reason. I like Teixeira almost solely because he looks like such a goofball when he's at bat.
posted by clockzero at 11:28 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Man those St. Louis teams were murder on the basepaths. And they were always on base!
posted by Mister_A at 11:33 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Okay, now I want them to do Tony Batista.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:36 AM on May 16, 2014

I feel like there could be a FPP just dedicated to Willie McGee's baseball cards. Especially compared to the cool indifference favored by 99 percent of ballplayers, he always stood out, whether he just (as the article stated) watched his pet rabbit get murdered, or was having an existential crisis, or he had just farted, or was just wondering which one of you farted.
posted by joechip at 11:38 AM on May 16, 2014 [23 favorites]

I had forgot about ol' Willie. Definitely one of my favorite players. One of my old coaches yanked me aside to scream at me to stop batting like Willie McGee.
posted by Our Ship Of The Imagination! at 11:40 AM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Maybe the whole time he was feeling trapped in his career, and just wanted to be a dentist.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:47 AM on May 16, 2014

This is hilarious. I lived in SF when he played there - he was a great player - but no matter the situation he always wore the expression of someone about to receive a urinary catheter.
posted by vapidave at 11:47 AM on May 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

joechip: I will give you $3 to do a baseball card FPP.

Damn I miss Whiteyball!
posted by DigDoug at 12:20 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Man, that sonofabitching Willie McGee. Great player (and a great article, thanks for the post) who absolutely murdered the Mets in '85 (when he got the MVP). Gooden went 24-4 and the Mets should have gone all the way. How I hated the Cards in those years!

/still bitter
posted by languagehat at 12:23 PM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Oh man, I love Willie McGee so much. I was in kindergarten when the '82 Cardinals won the World Series (and Willie had that fantastic HR robbing catch at County Stadium in Milwaukee), and was so lucky to grow up watching him play.

When I was in grad school in St. Louis, the chairman of the Cardinals came and talked to our class. It was a talk about economics - at the time, the Cardinals were pitching their new stadium and wanted public money for it. At the end of his presentation, they opened the floor for questions. I got the first one, and asked "when are you guys going to retire number 51?" He gave back some canned answer about only doing it for hall of famers or something, but he said "that's one of the most frequent questions I hear. And if you have noticed, nobody wears that number now..."

Other than one player in 2001 (Bud Smith, who wore it for only one appearance, to the great dismay of the fans), nobody has worn 51 since McGee retired in 1999.
posted by AgentRocket at 12:26 PM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Wonderfully written article! Thanks for posting that. A nice palate cleanser after a crummy morning.
posted by mosk at 12:30 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

McGee had one of the ugliest swings in the game, but it worked. Story is that after he made it to Busch, somebody (I think it was Herzog, but it may have been higher up) sent the word down: Anyone who tries to improve McGee's swing is fired.

/still bitter

I knew there was a reason I never liked you.
posted by middleclasstool at 12:34 PM on May 16, 2014

Then there is the kind of fast that terrifies you for all the wrong reasons, like when a toddler in a grocery cart gets loose and begins rolling downhill in a busy parking lot.

Oh my christ I love this piece so much. I will never enjoy anything in sports as much as a enjoyed watching a Cardinal in 1985 steal a base while the opposing catcher lost his goddamn mind.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 12:37 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

That was fucking superb writing.

I still have that Donruss Diamond Kings card in a little frame in my closet somewhere. A friend tried to tell me they were worthless. I said, Man you don't know the value of things.
posted by echocollate at 12:43 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Anyone who tries to improve McGee's swing is fired.

I get a real kick out of quirky batting stances. That's why I enjoy the Batting Stance Guy's take on the Cardinals, with the vast majority dedicated to idiosyncratic Whiteyball-era players (McGee at 1:24).
posted by joechip at 12:49 PM on May 16, 2014 [7 favorites]

The Cardinals in the 80's and excitement surrounding them in St. Louis are what turned me into a lifelong baseball fan and made desperately want to play as a child.

Home runs can go screw, give me small ball all day long!
posted by Jacob G at 12:53 PM on May 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

His dad was a Pentecostal deacon? Aren't those the Christians who sometimes speak tongues and go into trances and stuff? Maybe that explains some things.
posted by ChuckRamone at 12:54 PM on May 16, 2014

For the youngsters and to avoid misunderstanding, "Whiteyball is a style of playing baseball that was developed by former Major League Baseball manager Whitey Herzog."
posted by vapidave at 1:05 PM on May 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

Willie McGee was a fantastic ballplayer, always seemed like a decent guy off the field, and remains much loved by Cardinal fans. Nice to see somebody outside of St. Louis showing him some love, too.
posted by Nat "King" Cole Porter Wagoner at 1:07 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Home runs can go screw, give me small ball all day long!
Yes! Home runs are fine but a bloop single to right and a guy with a jump scoring from second is great baseball
posted by stltony at 1:47 PM on May 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

Man that video joechip linked is hilarious!
posted by Mister_A at 1:51 PM on May 16, 2014

Anyway, yeah, like languagehat said above, the Cards were the arch-enemy of any Mets fan in those days. If Vince got on, you knew he was going to be on 3rd in a minute. That near-certainty, in a way, was more demoralizing than the spectacular but relatively rare homer, just because of the predictability, the inevitability of it. The Cards always made you feel like you were behind before the game even started.
posted by Mister_A at 1:56 PM on May 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

The Cardinals kicked ass in NES RBI Baseball.
posted by Mick at 2:11 PM on May 16, 2014

Spencer Hall is seriously the single best sportswriter on the face of the planet and has been for the better part of a decade now. If you aren't reading EDSBS, you are missing out. I'm glad to see his work on the blue. And SBNation, more broadly speaking, is great, although there are pockets of stupidity and terribleness. But, for a site with 300+ subsites, there is a tremendous amount of quality stuff there.
posted by protocoach at 2:20 PM on May 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Spencer Hall previously
posted by 6ATR at 2:29 PM on May 16, 2014

Wow, what a fantastic article. And about one of my favorite players to boot!

McGee always looked like he should have been playing in the '60s, not the '80s. Got to see him live at the Dome Game 1 in '87, still the loudest experience of my life.
posted by Sphinx at 3:19 PM on May 16, 2014

Great article. God help me, I love baseball.
posted by mondo dentro at 3:21 PM on May 16, 2014

Home runs can go screw, give me small ball all day long!

Someone pointed this out ages ago... Sabermetrics have been wonderful for the game in terms of breaking it out of some of the stupid beliefs that held it hostage for so many years, and there's no question that in the current climate the Three True Outcomes are the right things to value, but goddamn if on a day to day basis it doesn't make for more boring games than small ball. It'll never happen, but I'd really like to see the rules change to make Whitneyball more viable again.
posted by asterix at 3:25 PM on May 16, 2014

> How I hated the Cards in those years!

I feel I should qualify this. I hated the team, but I didn't hate Ozzie Smith, because what kind of monster could hate Ozzie Smith?
posted by languagehat at 4:34 PM on May 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

I feel I should qualify this. I hated the team, but I didn't hate Ozzie Smith, because what kind of monster could hate Ozzie Smith?

The Wizard of Oz on The Baseball Bunch
posted by Rock Steady at 4:56 PM on May 16, 2014

One of my prized possessions is the only baseball I've ever caught: a Willie McGee foul ball I caught in Fenway Park in 1995, during his only year with Boston. I'm just excited to have ever gotten a ball, but especially there, and (thanks to this article) especially from him.

(Long story alert:) It was one of the finest days in my life: I'd gone to college in Boston from 90-94, back when anyone could still walk up and buy a bleacher seat the day of a game. I'd now moved to the west coast for my first job, but was back east for a business trip and stopped by to visit college friends. Saw the Sox were playing that afternoon and made a spur-of-the-moment decision to walk over and see if I could get in.

As I was approached the box office, I heard a scalper calling out 'who needs tickets?' and for some reason spoke up (I'd never considered this in my life), "How much?" "Face value, man... the game's already started and I need to unload these." So I spent $20 on the first box-seat ticket of my life... a colossal sum for me at the time, but I was feeling flush after the transition from ramen-eating student to gainfully-employed engineer.

I headed into the park and tried to find my seat... an usher finally pointed me to where I didn't think could possibly be correct: second row, right behind third base. Never thought I'd warm a seat like that in my life. The guys in the seats around me asked, "hey, how much did you pay for that ticket?" "Face value--$20."

Turns out a group of four die-hard fans from Maine had planned this trip forever, gotten hotel rooms and bought outrageously overpriced tickets, even had the foresight to bring their gloves because they knew they were going to be sitting right on the field. One of their buddies had cancelled on them late, so they'd been forced to sell off his ticket to a scalper outside (taking a large loss), and here I am, now sitting in his seat for only $20.

So, maybe around the 4th inning, Willie McGee slaps a hard grounder foul, down the third-base line. The Maine guys in front of me—ready for their moment to shine!—lean out and over the wall to field it… and the ball’s so hot that it bounces out of one guy’s glove, rolls up his arm and into mid-air above the crowd. Everyone within a ten foot radius starts wildly swinging and clawing the air, like a pack of methed-out T-Rexes, as the ball popcorns around for a few bounces... and I feel the ball satisfyingly thwack into my palm. Of course, I have the instant brainstem reaction to strike the triumphant Statue-of-Liberty pose for the Jumbotron.

As I sat back down, I realized that through dumb luck, I’ve now not only taken their friend's expensive seat, but the once-in-a-lifetime souvenir ball which they had hoped and planned to get, with still more than half the game left. Watched the rest of the game with extremely awkward self-consciousness, as (completely unwarranted) visions of getting beat down and ball snatched start running through my head, then quickly hustled out of there.

Still have it on my desk at work, where I see it every day!
posted by rodeoclown at 5:21 PM on May 16, 2014 [27 favorites]

Thanks for this. Willie was and always will be my #1 favorite player in the game, and Herzog-era Cards will always be my favorite team. I hope some day someone makes a Whiteyball movie. As time goes on, it only becomes clearer how unique that team really was.
posted by spilon at 11:38 AM on May 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

rodeoclown, that is awesome.
posted by davidjmcgee at 1:48 PM on May 17, 2014

« Older And together, THEY FIGHT CRIME!   |   The Rise of the Voluntariat Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments