Taken by the San Diego Padres as the sixth player overall in the June 1981 draft, McReynolds quickly popped onto the radar of the big league screen after being named Player of the Year in his minor leagues in both 1982 and ’83. He followed a brief call-up to the bigs at the end of 1983 by becoming the Pods’ regular centerfielder in their 1984 NL pennant season. He led National League outfielders in putouts that year, and tied for the team lead with 20 dingers while batting .278 with 75 RBIs. His three-run homer powered the Padres to their Game Three 6-2 comeback victory against the Cubs in the League Championship Series after he had scored the go-ahead run earlier in the game.
McReynolds dropped off to .234 with 15 homers in 1985 (though he once again led NL outfielders in putouts) and, never outwardly demonstrative, was accused of a lack of drive. Spurred on by such comments, he roared back in 1986 with 26 homers and 96 ribbies while batting .288. In December 1986, McReynolds was part of a seven-player deal that brought heavyweight Kevin Mitchell to the Padres, and sent him to the World Champion New York Mets.
The following seasons in New York were bittersweet. While he hit .276 with 26 bombs and 95 RBIs in the middle of the Mets’ powerful offense, he was jeered for hitting only .213 with runners in scoring position. And though he improved that mark by more than 100 points in the Mets’ 1988 division title season while driving home 99 runs, he was still prone to long slumps.
However, the Mets were pleased with his fine defense in left field — he led NL outfielders in assists in 1988, a relative rarity for leftfielders. He also showed a new talent in that pennant-winning campaign, setting a major league record for most steals in a season (21) without being caught. In 1989 McReynolds extended that stolen base streak to 33 (dating back to 1987), and was closing in on Davey Lopes‘ major league record of 38 before he was finally caught. Future teammate Vince Coleman shattered Lopes’ record later the same season.
During the Mets’ offseason drive for more pitching in December 1991, McReynolds was shipped to the Kansas City Royals with Gregg Jefferies for former Cy Young Award winner Bret Saberhagen. Platooning with Chris Gwynn in the outfield and hampered by shoulder injuries for the next two seasons, he saw his power and average totals drop slightly each year.
McReynolds returned to the Mets in January 1994 when KC traded him for the speedy but declining and troublesome Vince Coleman. He shared time in centerfield with John Cangelosi, but spent most of the season on the disabled list with neck, hamstring, and knee injuries. When the season ended prematurely, McReynolds decided to retire.