McGee, now a coach, recalls catch from 40 years ago

May 12th, 2022

This story was excerpted from John Denton’s Cardinals Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

ST. LOUIS -- Willie McGee, who is still seen by many Cardinals fans as the fresh-faced rookie who made the World Series-saving catch in 1982, can certainly attest to the old cliché that time stops for no man. McGee, for one, can’t believe that it’s been four decades since the biggest moment of his baseball career took place.

“Time is crazy, and it’s just flying by all the time,” McGee said, while shaking his head. “You put your head down and you look up and it’s been 10 years. Then, you put your head down again and look up and it’s been 40. How does that happen?”

That happens when you stay as busy as McGee, now 63 years old and the outfield coach of the Cardinals. Rarely, if ever, is there a day when McGee isn’t using his fungo bat to hit fly balls to Cardinals outfielders in the pregame, or positioning players during the game. Two of those players, Tyler O’Neill and Harrison Bader, have won Gold Glove awards, and a third, Dylan Carlson, is thought of as a future Gold Glove candidate. Those players rave about the understated coaching style of McGee, who knows a thing or two about defense from when he won Gold Gloves in 1983, ’85 and ’86.

“If you lose that [respect], you might as well go home,” McGee said when asked about his close relationship with several of the Cardinals outfielders. “It’s not about me; it’s about them. These guys are awesome athletes, and they were great players before they ever got here, so I just try to use my experience to give them ideas. I try to teach them the importance of establishing a routine and how that can help them. But it can’t be my way. My way worked for me, but they have to come up with a way that works for them and makes them comfortable. I’m lucky because we have a group of guys in the outfield who work their butts off and they want to get better.”

It’s hard to imagine a rookie season going any better than McGee’s did in 1982, when he helped the Cardinals defeat the Milwaukee Brewers for the franchise’s ninth World Series title. As a rookie who was “thrown in the fire” by manager Whitey Herzog, McGee had six hits, five RBIs, six runs and two home runs in the 1982 World Series. However, it was the Game 3 catch made by McGee -- when he scampered to left-center and went high above the yellow line to rob a potential Gorman Thomas home run -- that Cardinals fans remember most.

“They always talk about the catch,” McGee says of the nearly 40-year-old memory. “That’s what people really remember the most. I guess that would be the staple to remember because they still show it a lot. That moment still seems like it was slow motion to me. Luckily, I had time to set up, gauge it and then make the jump. That’s what I tell these guys all the time -- being in the right position allowed my timing to be great. That’s what always stuck in my mind -- how the play seemed like it was in slow motion. When you have great moments like that, it just seems like things slow down for you.”