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BotB Shorts: Willie McGee's maybe deserved 1985 MVP Award

The topic for this BotB Short was outsourced to my colleagues at Birds on the Black and the first response back was current coach Willie McGee's 1985 MVP Award, which I immediately jumped on since few things make me happier than writing about basically any Cardinal from that era. So here we go.

First thing's first, while we all love McGee, or at least Cardinals fans from my age-group and above all love McGee, he probably didn't deserve the award. Not because he wasn't great, he was, but someone else was legendary. That someone was Dwight Gooden, who recorded one of the best seasons ever pitched. It was so good, in fact, it spawned one of the greatest images online, courtesy of Baseball Reference (as first brought to my attention by my old colleague, John Fleming, of Viva El Birdos):

(Click here for context.)

Nevertheless, McGee still won the award (Dave Parker, Pedro Guerrero, Gooden, and Tom Herr rounded out the top five), and arguing that he didn't deserve to win on a Cardinals blog doesn't sound like much fun, so let's bunker down and defend the status quo.

First, some stats to put McGee's season in perspective:


151 wRC+

8.2 bWAR

7.1 fWAR

Led the league in batting, hits (216), triples (18); finished third in runs (114) and stolen bases (56); won the second of his three Gold Gloves in center field; won his first and only Silver Slugger Award.

Now, if all you need is a WAR leaderboard, and believe that position players are inherently more valuable than pitchers for the sole reason that they play every day, then McGee is quite defensibly your guy. By bWAR, McGee (8.2) stood at the very top for position players in 1985, just ahead of Guerrero and Tim Raines. By fWAR, McGee (7.1) was third behind these same two players. No shame there.

If you need an MVP season to be uniquely good in some fashion, no problem there either. Ty Cobb typically reached base at a higher clip than .384, but that aside, McGee's 1985 season was like some throwback to the great players of old. Per Baseball Reference's Play Index, here's how many players since 1901 to have hit at least .350, with 15 or more triples, while stealing at least 50 bases:

There are more important stats conveniently omitted from the criteria above, but that's a memorable season regardless. The time-gap between McGee and George Sisler alone is something everyone should love and admire.

Or, to identify your league MVP, maybe you just need to find the best player on the best team and call it a day. In 1985 that team was the Cardinals - the only team in MLB to win at least 100 games - and that player was McGee. That's a perfectly simplistic, principled (possibly flawed!) way to ensure you're not wasting too much time litigating the merits of an award when you could be outside living. And that's possibly what the voters did in 1985. Cheers to them, I say.


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