Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Whose batting title is it anyway?...

                      In 1980, the St. Louis Cardinals hired Whitey Herzog to be their manager.  Whitey had had success with the Kansas City Royals, bringing them three consecutive AL West titles in '76, '77 and '78.  Now he was hired to manage a team that hadn't made the postseason in over a decade.  With the spacious Busch Stadium as his home, he decided to manage a little differently, taking advantage of the Astroturf and deep alleys with "Whiteyball", which relied on on pitching, defense and speed (as opposed to Earl Weaver's pitching, defense and the three run homer).

Other than George Hendrick, Darrell Porter, Keith Hernandez and (later) Jack Clark, the '80s Cardinals were basically slap ball hitters who would get on base and cause havoc for pitchers with their speed. With players like Ozzie Smith, David Green, Lonnie Smith,  Tommy Herr and (later), Vince Coleman, St. Louis ran at will, consistently leading the league in stolen bases.  In Fact, Vince Coleman became the first player to steal 100 bases three years in a row, from '85 to '87.

       Perhaps the player that best personified the Cardinals of the '80s was Willie McGee; he was called up to the team late in the '82 season, and helped them win it all with his solid defense and surprising power in the World series, hitting two homers in a win against Milwaukee.  After his rookie stint, he became the Cardinals best player, regularly in the top ten in hits, runs, average, steals, triples and so forth.  His best year was 1985, when he won the NL MVP, won a Gold Glove, and led the league in hit and triples, on top of winning  the first of two batting titles in his career (his .353 average that year remains the highest ever for an NL switch hitter). St. Louis would win the pennant that year and also in '87, losing in the World series to the Royals and Twins respectively.

               On July 6th, 1990, Whitey Herzog shocked everyone by announcing his retirement.  The team decided to start rebuilding and traded some of their best players, McGee being one of them.  At the time of the trade, McGee was leading the NL in batting at .335 and he had enough at bats to qualify for the title even though he was now a member of the Oakland A's in the AL.  At season's end, he won the NL batting title, finishing 5 points ahead of the Dodger's Eddie Murray.  However, McGee's total average with both the NL and AL was .324, and the Royals George Brett won the AL title at .329, which means neither of the league's batting leaders actually led the majors in hitting that year.  That feat would belong to Eddie Murray at .330...the first time neither league's batting champion had the highest average overall.  Another note about the '90 batting race, was Brett becoming the first player to win a title in 3 different decades, the other years being '76 and '80.

         McGee would go on to have some more solid seasons, mostly with the San Fransisco Giants and also helped the Red Sox win the AL East crown in '95.  He was mostly a part time player by then, so it makes it even more bittersweet to know that the Sox could have had him during the 1990 season when he eventually went to Oakland instead.  Apparently, when offered his services, Sox GM Lou Gorman was quoted as saying "What would we do with Willie McGee"...what indeed...oh, and in case you forgot, the A's swept the Red Sox in the ALCS that year.  Not saying Willie was the reason, but still...

1 comment:

  1. Gotta give some respect to Larry Jones! Chipper hit .364 in 2008 as a switch hitter.