Monday, April 26, 2010

Volume 5, Number 10: Hal McRae vs. the Press

Exactly 17 years ago today, Kansas City Royals manager Hal McRae launched into one of the greatest tirades in the history of sports. His team had just lost to my Detroit Tigers, 5-3, and one reason is that they could not score in the bottom of the 7th inning when they had the bases loaded.

The Royals did score 2 runs in the 9th; that rally, while too little, too late, was sparked by a double by George Brett off Tiger reliever Mike Henneman.

During the post-game press conference, held in McRae's office, John Doolittle (a sports talk show host for radio station KMBZ) asked McRae if he had considered using Brett as a pinch-hitter for Keith Miller in the 7th. Miller had fouled out to end that inning, straning all three baserunners. Below is the video of that question and McRae's reaction:



At first, Doolittle's question seemed like the classic second-guessing, nitpicking, "Monday morning quarterback" kind of question. And in fairness to McRae, putting up with questions like that can be irritating. Imagine if members of the press asked you about every single thing you did--"Why'd you have this for lunch instead of that?" or "Why'd you buy this car instead of that car?"

However, a look at the boxscore from that game helps reveal that Doolittle's question about pinch-hitting Brett for Miller was actually well-founded.

In the middle of his outburst--after tossing microphones and tape recorders, but before hurling a phone and clearing reporters out of his office--McRae says (at about the 0:32 mark of the video), "Miller started the (expletive) game, he's batting against left-handed (expletive) pitchers, Brett is not playing against left-handed pitchers."

As it happened, the Tigers' starting pitcher that night, Tom Bolton, was left-handed; also, in 1993, Brett would hit just .209 against left-handed pitchers. However, Bolton had left the game after 5 innings, and the pitcher who relieved him for the 6th and 7th innings was Dave Haas--a right-hander. Therefore, McRae, perhaps, should have started giving thought to using Brett as a pinch-hitter as early as the 6th.

But with the bases loaded and two outs, Miller went to the plate, even though he had grounded out in each of his previous three at-bats. Miller fouled out to Alan Trammell to end the inning.

Two innings later, in the bottom of the 9th, George Brett pinch-hit for 2B Jose "Chico" Lind and hit a double that started a 2-run rally. If Brett--who hit .295 against right-handers in 1993--had gone in for Miller in the 7th and hit that very same double, at least 2 of the men on base would have scored--perhaps all three.

In the final analysis, Doolittle didn't ask such a "stupid-ass question." Looking back, he was wondering if McRae had perhaps overlooked the fact that right-handed Haas had relieved left-handed Bolton and that was why he didn't put Brett in for Miller in the 7th.

Two footnotes about that outburst:
  • One of the objects McRae threw hit Alan Eskew, a reporter for the Topeka Capital-Journal, opening a gash about an inch below his right eye. (Eskew appears briefly in the video, at about the 0:56 mark.) McRae later apologized to him. According to this reproduction of a column Eskew published two days later, Eskew accepted the apology, never sued McRae or the Royals, and said, "We get along fine."
  • Curiously, in the 36 games that followed that 5-3 loss (starting on April 27 and ending on June 7), the Royals went 24-12, suggesting that McRae's outburst could have (to coin a phrase) lit a fire under his players' asses. (See the Royals' 1993 schedule and results in case you don't believe it.) The Royals would fire McRae the next year despite his managing the team to back-to-back winning seasons--a feat KC has not duplicated since. I recall wanting the Tigers to hire him after Sparky Anderson retired as their manager (they hired Buddy Bell instead).

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