The Humble Hero

As the theme music to “The Natural” cascades over Busch Stadium, Cardinals outfielder Willie McGee squashes down his helmet and twitches, droops and wobbles toward the batter’s box. 

His eyes are riveted downward. As he slogs on, he fidgets with batting gloves, yanks at a shoulder of his jersey and wipes his face with a sleeve. He seems to be in excruciating pain. 

“Every time Willie comes up,” friend and former teammate John Morris said, “he looks like he’s going to die.” This is his cocooning, a way of cordoning off the distractions that lurk everywhere, that seek to clutter his mind and tempt him into failure. Trying to fend off those menaces demands insulating himself, and not thinking and not worrying. 

But how can he not think without…thinking? How can he not worry without…worrying? 

And so begins the confounding loop that has spiraled around Willie most of his life and defined his two-decade career in professional baseball: 

“You have to worry about things; if you don’t, you take it for granted or get complacent,” he reasons, touching both hands to his heart as he sits atop the bench in the Cardinals’ dugout. “But if I’m upset with myself, I don’t like that feeling, either. I don’t like going home upset with myself all the time. But if you relax and accept it, it snowballs.” 

And it whirs on:

“You can get too worrisome. I’ve been there. Been there a number of times. You get crazy. It gets complicated. Then you can get too comfortable, where you can’t kick-start yourself again. So you’ve got to have balance. 

“That’s why, off the field, everything has to be in place…. Your money. You can’t be worried about that. So you do simple things. Your family. You try to keep it simple. Try to keep peace.”

No. 51

Willie McGee is what he appears to be. Only more so. 

Inside, he is a jumble of fear and anxiety that he says, smiling, could seem paranoid. He doubts what he’s sure of. He agonizes if he can’t please everybody. 

“I think a lot of our personality comes out in how we play the game,” former Cardinals shortstop Royce Clayton said. “It’s a part of you, part of the way you express yourself. You look at the way Willie plays, in a lot of ways it’s the way Willie lives his life as well.” 

You look at the way Willie looks when he plays, and you would not know that he’s among the most precious Cardinals in the franchise’s history. “He looks like he doesn’t have a friend in the world,” longtime Cardinal announcer Jack Buck said. “Meanwhile, all the world is his friend.” 

He is, in fact, adored by fans and admired by teammates. 

“This guy could do anything wrong, and he’d be forgiven—that’s how good of a guy he is,” Cardinals outfielder Brian Jordan said. “He might get mad at me for this, but I want to please Willie. I want to make him proud.” 

Part of the popularity is in his intangible deeds: McGee, 39, has been an instrumental part of four Cardinals playoff teams, including three that reached the World Series. He has appeared in four All-Star games and has won two National League batting titles and one Most Valuable Player award. 

Yet numerous Cardinals have been similarly decorated without receiving similar adulation. What distinguishes Willie is his humility and vulnerability. 

If you don’t discern that in his demeanor, look at his jersey: No. 51. It’s obscure and indistinct in baseball, where position players wearing numbers over 49 usually are ticketed for the minors. But it’s just right for Willie. 

“It just fitted me; I just liked it,” he said. “I was here to play ball, not to worry about a number or try to make a name.” 

That’s why he doesn’t posture, preen, chest-thump and woof, why he called the Minnesota Twins to apologize immediately when he uncharacteristically pumped his fist after hitting a home run against them last season. 

“I don’t like to get out of character,” he said.

The Sensitive Crybaby

Perhaps hastened along by his mother’s dread of elevators, Willie Dean McGee burst into the world outside one in a San Francisco hospital on November 2, 1958. 

He was the fourth of Hurdice and Jessie McGee’s six children, and he wailed away as he was lurched up 15 flights. Jessie, his mother, came to see him as the crybaby: the sensitive one things always just seemed to happen to. 

Say the boys were having a rock fight, for fun. Willie would poke his head out from his little fort—just as a rock was zeroing in where his face jutted out. 

When he wasn’t hurt, he was jolly. And he liked to share that spirit. 

One day when everybody was helping Hurdice moonlight as a bank janitor, Willie found two rolls of quarters in a trash can. He turned over the money to a supervisor, who told him it was his to keep. Then Willie did some math. 

“I can get all of us some new jeans, Mama,” Willie said, “and I’ll have some left for the movies.” 

Once, during a game of cowboys and Indians, older brother John pinned Willie and thwapped him in the arm with a rock from a makeshift slingshot. Willie shrieked; he still has a scar from it. But his next words were, “Please Mama, don’t whup him. Don’t whup him no more.” 

Discipline and love were the moral mortar of the McGee home in Richmond, California. The codes also were framed be the Greater Faith Pentecostal Church, where Hurdice still serves as a deacon. That meant no drinking, smoking, or cussing. No females wearing pants or makeup. No worshiping the one-eyed devil—television. And for a time it meant no ballplaying on Sunday. 

The parents’ imparting of faith and family made their children feel rich, or at least middle class. Even if their house was hemmed in by poverty, well, it was always what was inside that mattered to the McGees. 

So what if two bunk beds had to be sardined into one room for the boys? Big deal if other kids playing basketball at school could stop on a dime in their Chuck Taylors while the McGees skated in their $2 sneakers from Food Bowl. 

“It was real life. Real life,” Willie said, smiling. “Wasn’t nothing perfect.”

Pops and Pigeons

Rules were fortified by Hurdice’s belt. Hurdice—Pops—would warn the kids first, then try to smack just their bottoms. But Pops didn’t play, either. Once, he uncoiled that belt as if from a holster and lashed Willie across the lip as he was squirming away. Willie knew it was his fault for running. 

Pops had no time for nonsense. For four decades, he toiled as a machinist at the Oakland Naval Yard; many years he tried to make more ends meet as a janitor at banks and schools and such. Most days, the kids went with him. 

He never saw his kids play baseball in Colt League—or that “Horse Team,” as he called it. Later, he would bid Willie farewell each spring by anointing his arms and legs in olive oil. But only once has he seen Willie play a game in the big leagues. 

“I had to take care of my family, man…. I had to go get it,” he says now, whooping for emphasis and displaying his hands as he sits in his kitchen in Hercules, California. “These hands, there’s arthur-itis in them now, but I tell you what: These babies used to be active.” 

Active. And, evidently, adroit. 

“You didn’t have to tell me I was good,” he said, “because I knew I was good!”

Willie lacked such self-assurance. He was the scrawny, pigeon-toed kid who wore a big ol’ parka and knit hat because he was so self-conscious. He heard that people talked about him behind his back. 

Not that he didn’t have friends. A few of them got together for “a little hustle” to keep change in their pockets: They bred and sold pigeons. When a rival broke into Willie’s backyard cage, Willie and his friends hopped on their bikes to visit the rival’s coop. 

Just as they found an ax to break it open, here came the cops. 

Terrified, Willie cried as they took him in. What frightened him most was calling home. Pops had always said, “Don’t call me if you get picked up by the cops!” So Willie called for Mama. 

“C-c-c-can you come get us?” he stammered. 

In the background, he could hear Pops yell: “Leave him there! LEAVE HIM THERE!”

Speaking Up

Repressed as Willie was, he had no trouble articulating what mattered most to him. When he was perhaps 10, he asked Pops if someone could make a living playing baseball. Well, Pops said, I suppose you could. 

Soon, Willie was sleeping in a baseball cap and cleats, hugging his bat and glove. He did every night for close to a year, and any chance to play, he played. 

Outside the house, where his name is still scrawled in the sidewalk, he would hit his brothers’ close-range pitching and chase balls while dodging cars barreling around the corner. Always, the McGees were mindful of throwing the ball over the wires so Mr. Turner couldn’t holler about them messing up his TV reception. 

As Willie came into adolescence, times were changing in the church. The McGees no longer disdained television, and, in fact, they purchased the best set so they could keep the children home and the neighbors coming over. 

As for playing ball on Sundays, well, a new bishop had taken over since Willie’s oldest brother, Rogers, had been forbidden to play. For all his shyness, Willie mustered an approach to the bishop. 

He told him he planned to be a ballplayer for a living. Then he told him he never heard in the Bible where playing baseball was a sin or wasn’t righteous. Then he asked if it was OK to play ball on Sundays after attending to his duties. 

“Bishop, you say put the Lord first,” Willie squeaked in his pre-pubescent voice. “Well, if I’m going to Sunday school, isn’t that putting the Lord first?”

The bishop agreed to give Willie the go-ahead to leave church every Sunday at about noon, by leaning over his pulpit and clearing his throat. Willie would wave subtly, amble to the back of the church…then skedaddle home to change. 

Even then, he looked tortured on the ballfield. Colt League coach Lonnie Lewis thought Willie’s posture proclaimed, “Oh, no. I’m sorry. I spilled the milk.” 

That sense of self initially kept him from wanting to try out for the team at Harry Ellis High School. Coach Bill Erkkila coaxed him into coming out in 10th grade, and Willie was magnificent.

‘Be a Ballplayer’

After turning down $12,000 from the Chicago White Sox in 1976 on the advice of a novice agent, Willie signed with the New York Yankees for $7,500 after they made him a secondary-phase pick in January 1977. 

Before he got on the plane to go to rookie ball in Oneonta, New York, Pops said, “Willie, watch your billfold.” Willie looked back and laughed. 

Days later, Willie sheepishly called home: His billfold, filled from a freshly cashed paycheck, had been plucked from his pocket when he was out with teammates. 

This incident was mere prelude to five-plus years in the minors that were laden with sleight-of-hand, embarrassment and heartache. Circumstances continually confronted the self-doubt that both crippled Willie and sustained him. Enduring the pain that didn’t kill him made him stronger. 

But not right away. He cried often and considered quitting frequently. Two episodes were the worst:

In 1979, his third pro season, he was hitting .243 for Class AA West Haven, Connecticut, and was demoted to Class A, at Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He couldn’t hit the curveball, but his real problem was the curveballs he was getting from his girlfriend back home. 

She was pretty but faster than Willie, and now she was making him dizzy. He’d call, and she’d be out. Or he’d hear a strange voice in the background. Or maybe she wouldn’t say, “I love you, too.”

It left him unhinged. 

He called home. 

“I can’t make it in baseball, Pops, I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m tired of this, man. I’m coming home.”

“WHAT?” Pops boomed. “Boy! You want to be a ballplayer?! BE A BALLPLAYER. Ain’t nothin’ here for you.” 

“From that day,” Willie recalls, “I didn’t worry if the water was hot no more. I just got in and tried to swim across.” 

He hit .318 in his 46 games with Fort Lauderdale, finishing with the third-highest average in the Florida State League. This, despite the relationship being unresolved. 

When Willie got home that fall, he knocked on the girlfriend’s door. She peered through a crack as he stood in the cold. She told him to go away. 

“Are you sure?” Willie said. “Are you sure? Are you sure?” 

He wept. But as he rode away, it was weird: He felt light. He felt happy. 

With Nashville in the Double-A Southern League, he sustained a broken jaw and a dislocated hip in 1980, then suffered another broken jaw in ’81. He was horrified when he looked in a hospital mirror after his high-speed collision with the knee of fellow outfielder Ted Wilborn. 

“Unbelievable,” he thought. “Ungodly. Gross.” 

His left eye socket had caved in, and his left cheek looked like a deflated ball. His right eye socket was deep black. He had stitches across his lip and gaps in his mouth. 

He went home for two weeks and, in his shame, quarantined himself in his room. Except for when Mama brought in oatmeal, he allowed no one in.

Let Him Play

Outfitted with a facemask, Willie was playing again six weeks later. That’s when he caught the eye of Cardinals scout Hal Smith, who was as impressed by his grit as his speed. On October 21, 1981, the Cardinals traded pitcher Bob Sykes to the Yankees for McGee, who had just hit .322 for Nashville. 

Willie heard about it a day later, as he lay on a couch reading “Transactions” in the newspaper. He was startled, sort of happy but mostly hurt. He wanted to be a Yankee. Pinstripes. Crying, he told Mama the news. She hushed him up and said that she would pray about it and sleep on it. 

When they spoke the next day, she said, “You’re going to go up next year, and y’all going to win the World Series.” 

When Willie reported to the Cardinals, manager Whitey Herzog immediately was intrigued by his speed, arm, and quick swing, unorthodox as it was. 

Herzog sensed he should never jump on Willie, and he relayed that to his coaches. “If I see anybody messing with his swing,” he said, “I’m going to fire you. Stay away from him, and let him play.” Later, Herzog forbade giving Willie signs at the plate. He let him play. 

For the first time professionally, Willie was playing for somebody who understood him. Whitey made the game fun again. 

Still, the Cardinals had no room for Willie at the beginning of the ’82 season. David Green had the center field job, and Willie figured he’d be at Class AAA Louisville all season. 

Just weeks later, however, Green suffered a torn hamstring. Willie, hitting .291, was called up to the majors on May 8. He remembers feeling as if “electricity surged through” him. But he was also as worried as a kid going to a new school. 

“You’re going to be accepted by the way you go about your business,” he thought. “Not how much you talk. Or how you look. Or image. Or personality. That’s not going to get it.”

Once acclimated, Willie went on a rampage. For several months, he was among the league leaders in hitting, hanging around .350. He finished at .296, and the Cardinals won the NL East Division title, the pennant playoff, and the World Series.

A New Car

Despite his intention of keeping quiet and staying out of the way, Willie was teased and razzed his rookie season. He was hurt and angered by it. Among the most constant needlers was outfielder George Hendrick. 

One day Hendrick’s cracks left Willie steaming; he hurried out of the locker room and went to the dugout to put his shoes on. Hendrick followed him out and said, “Man, what happened?”

“Man, I just can’t handle it,” Willie said. “I can’t take it no more.”

Hendrick said, “Willie, look: The only reason I get on you is because I like you. If I didn’t like you, I wouldn’t say anything to you.”

From then on, it was cool. Willie understood. He even would ride to the ballpark with Hendrick, whose equilibrium amazed him. Even if Hendrick went hitless and the Cardinals lost, he’d still be whistling and chuckling and playing his music. Willie could never do that, but he liked to try. 

Shortstop Ozzie Smith also adopted Willie, summoning him from his hotel residence and putting him in a loft in his house. He felt cozy there, even if it was months before he called Smith’s wife “Denise” instead of Mrs. Smith. 

By the playoffs, Willie felt accepted and comfortable. He was able to withstand what he considered an attack by Howard Cosell, who insisted on referring to him as “E.T.”—a nickname that embarrassed Willie and one that his family likens to an ethnic slur. He might not have played baseball to make a name, but he was proud of the one he had. 

“I came here Willie McGee,” he said. “I plan to leave out Willie McGee.”

In Game 1 of the NL Championship Series against Atlanta, alas, his name was synonymous with base-running follies: Because he was looking down, he stopped at third base on a sure inside-the-park home run. 

“I’ve had a lot of incidents in baseball that I’m not real proud of,” he said. “But they’re honest. They’re honest. I’m not perfect. I never have been. We all got flaws. But like I say, hopefully, the benefits outweigh the flaws.” 

His two triples, a homer and five runs batted in catapulted the Cards past the Braves in Game 3—and into the World Series against the Milwaukee Brewers. Then there was his Game 3, at Milwaukee, an individual World Series performance that many consider among the best ever. For the first time since Little League, Willie hit two home runs in a game. He also made two remarkable catches, including a gravity-mocking grab above the wall in left-center field at County Stadium to rob Gorman Thomas of a ninth-inning home run. 

But winning the World Series wasn’t the best thing that happened to Willie in ’82. Two years later, his wife-to-be, Vivian Manyweather, gave birth to Nanaushika, the first of their four daughters. And then there was the trip with Pops to the Chevy dealer in Oakland. 

Pops loved cars, but he’d never had a new one. When they got to the lot, Willie said, “Any one you want, Pops. Any one.”

Pops couldn’t believe it. “Son, son—are you sure?”

“I’m sure, Pops,” Willie said. 

Pops looked around a bit. He picked out a Caprice Classic. 

And then Pops shuddered and sank to his knees and wept.

Learning the Terrain

While nagging concerns still rumbled in his mind, Willie began to flourish. On and off the field. 

By 1987, he was settled enough to at last marry Viv, who had initiated their courtship in 1982 by telephoning him from church with Willie’s sister, Thelma, alongside for good luck. 

Skeptical as he was, Willie trusted Viv almost immediately and considered her a blessing. She liked to listen but didn’t scold him if he was quiet or upset after having a bad game. She was there when he called, and she became his best friend. They have three other daughters now: Nanaushika was followed by Jessica, Whitney and Virginia. 

Through his family, and through the momentum of playing well, Willie’s identity was forming. 

On his way to winning the 1985 NL batting title and MVP award with a .353 average, highest ever for a switch-hitter, he attended a Kiwanis luncheon to honor him for his “great quantities of humility.” He stood in line behind those waiting for tickets. When he reached the front, he said, simply, “I’m Willie McGee. This luncheon’s for me.” 

And, naturally, he still worried. He could get three hits in three at-bats and then have tears in his eyes after a strikeout. Once, pitcher Bob Forsch turned to Herzog and said, “Boy, I’d hate to see him at a funeral.” When Willie played in his third World Series, against Minnesota in the treacherous Metrodome in 1987, this is what he was thinking:

“I’m worried about the roof,” he said. “I’m worried that you can’t see the ball. I’m worried that you can’t hear. I’m worried about the crowd….”

Beyond his obvious traits, Willie was pursuing and cultivating interests that only those who know him would see. Such as his penchant for gadgets. 

“That’s his specialty,” Clayton says. “He’ll say, ‘Royce, they’ve got this new hydro-something-electronic-computer-synthesizer.’ And he’s got it.”

He is, of course, disconcerted when the topic is broached. He finally laughs and concedes, “I’m kind of a handyman,” but abruptly thinks this too boastful and adds, “Believe you me, there’s millions and millions of ones better than me.”

Computers are his favorite toy. He pecks constantly at his laptop, whether it be for budgeting or scouting reports or solitaire. 

“I’m by no means a computer genius, but I like messing with it,” he said. “That’s how you learn. Through trial and error.”

He also learns through reading. His repertoire extends from Chinese philosophy, to Money magazine; from the I Ching to…cha-ching. 

Among his current favorites is James Allen’s “As a Man Thinketh,” given him by Clayton as part of an ongoing book exchange. A typical passage:

“All that a man achieves and all that he fails to achieve is the direct result of his own thoughts…. As he thinks, so he is; as he continues to think, so he remains.”

Among his favorite releases is riding motorcycles and four-wheel dirt bikes—on which, he notes, he took a course. He always wears the appropriate armor. 

“I like being on the edge, but staying within your abilities,” he said. “I don’t try to jump over buildings…. I go to the same park, where I know the terrain. I know what I can do and can’t do. I eliminate as many risks as I can.”

He also has been known to drive a tractor. In 1994, he rented one and hopped on it so he could resurrect three baseball fields behind his shuttered high school. He gives thousands of dollars to the Richmond Police Athletic League, to a local computer learning center and to his parents’ church, but he felt compelled to do something more plain and direct. 

“All that land,” he said, “just sitting there wasting.”

At the fields, there is no ornamentation—or even a hint—of his labor and funding.

‘Too Much Pressure’

Willie remained unswerving, but Cardinals management and the course of the game were veering. 

Left knee and right hamstring injuries hobbled him in 1986, leaving him with a .256 average. He was troubled about having to have knee surgery, but he was far more distressed when he began hearing his name bandied about as trade fodder. 

The fickleness and rudeness and business of the business became more apparent to him than ever that year, his last on a three-year contract that paid him $500,000 for the final season. Negotiating a new contract disconcerted him. 

He earned a three-year contract for $4.1 million after the 1987 pennant-winning season, when he had a career-high 105 RBIs. But, as with many developments in his life, this held paradoxical meaning for Willie. On one hand, it was a measure of respect. But it was also an albatross that made Willie go to Herzog…to quit. 

Herzog said, “Huh? What? What for?” 

Too much pressure,” Willie said. 

“Willie, let me tell you something. You don’t have any pressure,” Herzog said. “Do you think you have to get a hit every time up now? …You earned that money.” 

That wasn’t the sentiment of the organization by 1990—after benevolent owner Gussie Busch had died, and Herzog had resigned and the Cardinals were en route to their first last-place finish since 1918. Numerous veterans were in the final year of their contracts, and particularly vulnerable was Willie: After injuries to his rib cage, wrist and hamstrings, he had been confined to 58 games and a career-low average of .236 in 1989. 

He rebounded at the plate in 1990, but a better indication of his state of mind was his outfield play. Distracted by an impasse in contract negotiations with the Cardinals, he committed 16 errors—he had a total of 17 in his three Gold Glove years. After one gaffe, he heaved his glove into the stands. 

He was hitting .335, five points behind NL leader Len Dykstra of Philadelphia, when he was traded to the Oakland A’s on August 29 for third baseman Stan Royer, outfielder Felix Jose and pitcher Daryl Green. It didn’t matter to Willie that we was on the verge of winning his second batting title, which he ultimately won when Dykstra faltered. That made Willie the first major leaguer to win a batting championship while finishing the season in the other league. 

All that mattered to him was that he was going home, even though he also thought, “I’m leaving my heart somewhere.”

Cardinal Virtues

And that probably should have been it for Willie and St. Louis. In Oakland, he was 30 minutes from home, playing on a forgiving grass surface for a team that had a bright future. Indeed, he was weeks from playing in his fourth World Series. 

But trying to adjust to Oakland was the hardest thing Willie ever did. 

Where did he fit in the clubhouse? Where did he fit in the lineup? He missed his friends, and he missed seeing red everywhere. He played sparingly in the postseason, and Oakland didn’t try to re-sign him. But then came another apparently fruitful match: Willie signed a four-year, $13 million deal with the San Francisco Giants. 

Yet he never adjusted to the ponderous managing style of Roger Craig, and he remained edgy there even after Dusty Baker took over. He simply was too close to home. 

“Somebody would call your name in the stands: ‘Hey, Willie!’” he said. “I’d be like, ‘I’m out here now, this is my job.’ But then you’re thinking, ‘What is he thinking about me if I don’t look?’ If you don’t look, then you’re wrong. 

“So you’ve got this undue stress, and I’m not the type of guy who can just brush it off.”

He had never had that extra pressure in St. Louis. As much as he was admired and known, he had a buffer zone. It was a place where he knew the terrain. 

Frustrating as the circumstances of his departure had been, Willie had come to believe that he never should have left. Plus, a new ownership group was in place, and they all seemed like straight-shooters. 

So on December 15, 1995, after a half-season with the Boston Red Sox demonstrated that he had recovered from a torn Achilles tendon, he signed a minor-league contract with the Cardinals. He began the 1996 season in St. Louis and soon attained a mystical, mythical popularity. 

He bolstered a playoff-bound team by hitting .307—including a .432 mark in September. The giddy ovations for him at times glazed his eyes with tears. The enchantment immediately spilled into the next season: In the 1997 home opener, he limped to the plate with a strained calf muscle and blasted a pinch-hit homer with two outs in the ninth against Montreal. 

It was, some observers thought, like something out of “The Natural.”

“I really think it was more dramatic than that,” manager Tony LaRussa said. “More dramatic than anything I’ve seen in a movie.”

“The Natural?”

“I don’t believe in that,” Willie said after the game. “That’s fantasy. This is hard work for me.”

As Willie aged and coped with injuries and, of course, kept trying to find his emotional niche, he relied more and more on his formula: Work hard. Don’t think. Keep things simple. Work harder. 

“You see how much he suffers when he doesn’t perform,” La Russa said. “There’s no comfort factor: ‘Well, I’ve done it for years.’

“He’s still as anxious today to prove himself as ever.”

That anxiety often keeps Willie writhing through the night. Some nights, he still doesn’t sleep. Too much on his mind: “Life. Everything. Definitely.”

Gone ‘In a Puff’?

A July slump prompted Willie to note that it wasn’t his first…but could be his last. He has put his career timetable in the hands of Viv and the girls, who jarred him when all four recently cried during an airport goodbye. Last month in his Clayton apartment, he watched them playing and said, “This is real life.” 

“All they’ve got to do is say the word, and I’m gone,” said McGee, who flies home to Hercules on most off days. “It would be hard, but I know I can do it, you know, with some help.”

Viv says it’s up to him, but senses this may be it. She has been making more trips than ever to see him play. “To keep that love connection,” she says, laughing. 

If the time has come, what he will do next is a matter of conjecture. La Russa believes McGee will stay in the game and could be the manager of the Cardinals some day. Willie smiles at the thought, but wonders whether he’s smart enough. 

“I didn’t go to college and stuff, so I’m not really book smart,” he says, but adds, “But common sense, I feel I’m experienced.” 

His mother thinks he’ll opt for a more peaceful life. 

“He wants to go buy some land,” she said. “He wants a big house where he can raise chickens, and he wants some cows.” 

As for Willie himself? 

“My theory is, I don’t know, (so) I’ve tried to eliminate that worry…by doing right by my money. Hopefully, I did, and that buys me time so I don’t have to sweat when I answer that question.” 

The question of when elicits just as vague an answer. 

“You’ll look around for Willie McGee one day,” he likes to say, “and he won’t be around.” 

Otherwise, there might have to be a Willie McGee day. 

“I don’t think he would allow that,” Jack Buck said. “It’s going to end in a puff.” 

Watch carefully these next few weeks, then, as No. 51 squashes down his batting helmet, twitches, droops and wobbles toward the batter’s box. 

Rejoice in his pain, as he winces and grimaces and agonizes. You probably won’t see his like again. He may be supernatural, but he is not “The Natural.”

“I don’t know what they’re doing, playing that song,” he said, shaking his head. “It’s not me.”

Mark Henderson

Mark Henderson

Mark "Homerun" Henderson is a former MLB player turned coach, with 25 years of professional baseball experience. An All-Star player, World Series Champion, and Hall of Famer, Mark now shares his passion and knowledge through his blog, "". He offers insights on game analysis, player profiles, baseball history, and coaching tips. When he's not writing or hosting his podcast, Mark enjoys reading baseball biographies and conducting community baseball clinics.

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