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Steady hand: Fan-favorite McGee is a key part of Cards coaching staff now

Rick Hummel, St. Louis Post-Dispatch on

Published in Baseball

There was much ado made about the Cardinals bringing in fan favorite Skip Schumaker as bench coach. There was high interest in the Cardinals signing longtime big leaguer and batting coach Turner Ward to be the assistant hitting coach.

Seven coaches return from the 2021 team, with one of them, Oli Marmol, having been promoted to manager. But there is only one Cardinals Hall of Fame coach returning. He is one of the franchise's most popular players ever in Willie McGee, who is back on a two-year deal, which will give him 19 years in a Cardinals uniform — 13 as a player and six as a coach.

McGee, a two-time batting champion and one-time Most Valuable Player, turned — hard to believe — 63, earlier this month.

"I don't know if I want to be 22 or 32 or 42 — or just be happy where I am," said McGee by telephone from California. "My oldest brother just had a stroke a week ago and my other older brother had a stroke a month-and-a-half ago. They're doing well but ... I appreciate every day."

McGee is a hybrid coach. A little hitting, a little base running, a lot of outfielding, besides offering help on the emotional and mental side of the game.

"I love the game, man," he said. "I've learned a lot, thanks to 'Pop' and Stubby (coaches Ron 'Pop' Warner and Stubby Clapp) and Shildty (former manager Mike Shildt) and the others. I've learned the game from that side of it — the coaching side of it. I'm able to think quicker out there and do my job better."

 

McGee's pride and joy is the development of young outfielders Tyler O'Neill, Harrison Bader and Dylan Carlson, with backup Lars Nootbaar coming along later.

Speaking primarily of the Cardinals' starting outfield of O'Neill, Bader and Carlson, McGee said, "They've come a long way. They've had a lot of opportunity to develop. Management believed in them.

"Where I'm most impressed is the defensive part — watching them putting the work in over the last two or three years and seeing the game slow down for them.

"I just think it's experience. Those guys have proven that they can play. They've conquered every level in the minor leagues. Take Tyler, for instance. Defensively, he was good down there in the minors, a really good outfielder. Bader was the same way. When they got to the big leagues they struggled a little offensively, even though they still kind of worked on their defense. They added to their game and this year, base running, defense and offense all came together.

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