GORDON HOLMES on WILLIE McGEE
My family lived in Jakarta, Indonesia for a couple of years when I was a kid. It was a wonderful experience and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but there was a downside…it created a two-year gap in my pop culture knowledge. When I was preparing to return to the United States in 1986, terms like ‘Crane Kick,’ ‘Decepticon,’ and ‘Flux Capacitor’ meant nothing to me. Worse than that, I figured the ‘Rah Rah’ Cardinals homerism that played so well when I was in second grade wasn’t going to fly with the more worldly fifth graders.
Suddenly it wasn’t enough to know that Ozzie Smith was the greatest human being who’d ever lived, or that Vince Coleman was the fastest man on the face of the planet, or that Jack Clark hit roughly a billion homeruns. Now people were talking about runs batted in, earned run averages, and (gasp!) even players from other teams.
So, unwilling to let me lack of statistical baseball knowledge turn me into a social pariah, I bought as many packages of Topps baseball cards as my meager allowance would allow. My foolproof plan consisted of two parts; first I’d hold onto the cards until I was older and become ridiculously wealthy, and second I’d study the back of each card as if I was preparing for some kind of baseball SATs.
And study those cards I did. I even went so far as to memorize any number in italics. You see, italics were good, italics proved that you were the leader of your league in that particular stat. It was during one cramming session that I noticed that the Cardinals’ center fielder had enjoyed quite a 1985 campaign. This unparalleled talent had three (count ‘em!) sets of italics in one season. Further research went on to show that this freak of nature had even been named the National League’s Most Valuable Player. My young mind was blown. The best player in the NL played for my beloved Cardinals and his name wasn’t Ozzie Smith, Vince Coleman, or Jack Clark? How is that even possible?
Needless to say, I was sold. I couldn’t wait to return to the states and watch the juggernaut that is Willie McGee prowl Busch Stadium’s outfield. The first game I was able to attend almost managed to live up to expectations. Ozzie Smith pulled off one of his trademark diving catches, Vince Coleman stole second and third base on consecutive pitches, and Jack Clark went deep. But Willie? Less than impressive.
Over the years, the real-life Willie McGee never could quite match the one in my Lik-Em-Aid-feuled imagination. But eventually I was able to appreciate him for what he was; a solid player who was always good for strong defense, speed on the basepaths, and some occasional power.
In fact, whenever the term ‘Hall of Very Good’ is brought up, he’s always the first name to pop into my head. And while I do regret never being able to witness Willie during his MVP season, the Beverly Hills mansion I purchased with the proceeds from the sale of my collection of 1986 Topps baseball cards does provide some solace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Gordon Holmes provides "Survivor" coverage and various other stuff for XFINITY.com. In his free time, he posts random musings on his personal site, morewhatnot.com. He is also an unapologetic St. Louis Cardinals fanboy who doesn't buy into the "Best Fans in Baseball" business, but does believe that Cardinals fans are superior to Phillies fans in every conceivable way.