BY C.S. HOWARD
Hal McRae was one of major league baseball’s prolific players. A native of Avon Park, Florida, McRae graduated from E. O. Douglas High School in Sebring. He attended Florida A&M University in Tallahassee and was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds in the 6th round of the 1965 amateur draft with the 117th overall pick. He went on to enjoy a lucrative career, making a name for himself in the process.
McRae was known as a speedster who could cover a lot of ground. He was aggressive on the bases, known as a “doubles machine”. He played for two of the top baseball teams of the 1970s - the Reds and the Kansas City Royals. He was with the Reds in 1968 and again from 1970-72. In the pre1969 off-season, while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, McRae suffered a multiple leg fracture sliding on the base paths. After his recovery, he became known as “the most aggressive base runner of the 1970s”, according to Bill James, an American baseball writer, history and statistician. According to James, “McRae was a man who left home plate thinking ‘double’ every time he hit the ball...he taught the younger players and reminded the veterans to take nothing for granted, and to take no prisoners on the bases.” McRae played hard—so hard, in fact, that the rule requiring a runner to slide into second base when breaking up a double play is still referred to as the Hal McRae Rule in honor of the man whose cross-body blocks into second base broke up a lot of double plays and second basemen at the same time.
In 1972, McRae was traded to the Kansas City Royals and developed as a consistent designated hitter in the American League. His playing career spanned 23 years, including 14 seasons with Kansas City. He was selected a three time All Star, hit over .300 six times for the Royals and was named Designated Hitter of the Year three times both by The Sporting News and the Associated Press. In a 19-year major league career, McRae posted a .290 batting average, with 191 home runs, 1097 RBI, 484 doubles, 65 triples and 109 stolen bases in in 2084 games played. He added a .351 on-base percentage and a .454 slugging average for a combined .805 OPS.
After his retirement from playing, McRae managed the Royals (1991–94) and the then Tampa Bay Devil Rays from 2001-02. He also served as hitting coach for the Montreal Expos, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies and the St. Louis Cardinals. He won a World Series ring playing for Kansas City against the Cardinals in 1985, and he won a ring as a coach for the Cardinals when they defeated the Detroit Tigers in the 2006 World Series.
McRae and his wife, Johncyna, make their home i n Bradenton. They have three children and six grandchildren. Brian is a former major league baseball player who makes his home in Kansas City, Missouri. He is the assistant baseball coach at Parkville University, a small liberal arts university north of Kansas City. He is married and has one daughter. Cullen lives and works for an IT Company in Miami Beach, Florida. He has a daughter and a son. Leah McRae Houston is a teacher in Hillsborough County. She is married and has three children and lives in Apollo Beach, Florida.
Following is our conversation with McRae:
TEMPO: After your baseball career ended, what are some of the things you were involved with?
McRae: After retirement, I volunteered at Manatee High School in the baseball program when Dwayne Strong was head coach. I have helped baseball coaches at State College of Florida, Palmetto High School, Sarasota High School and Booker High School, when asked. I also helped Dwayne Strong at his 5 Tools of Baseball business. I try to stay in shape and play a lot of golf.
TEMPO: A lot of or youth today tend to focus on a career in football. What are some of the advantages you see pursuing baseball over football?
McRae: First, let me say that I think that one of the reasons for youth choosing football over baseball in high school is because of popularity. If you play football in high school and are successful, everybody knows you. But, this is misguided. They choose popularity over – ‘what am I best suited for’? Good football players are all good athletes; they probably played little league baseball, but once they got to high school they stopped playing. They are not looking at the big picture: How far can I take football? How long can I last? What are the long-range plans for me to take this sport to the next level?
Now for your question! Some advantages are: longer career, you can earn more money, the risk of injuries are not as great. Undersized football players have a lot of problems getting to the next level. they played baseball, they would have a better chance of getting to the next level. Small in football is not considered small in baseball because you are physically strong and not considered undersized in baseball.
TEMPO: Talk about your career and what role baseball played in making you the man you are today.
McRae: I learned respect for the game and respect for opponents. I learned responsibility and teamwork. I learned how to win, and how to lose.
TEMPO: To what do you attribute your success – as a player and as a man?
McRae: Always give 100% every day and competitiveness – I hate to lose!
TEMPO: How you would like to be remembered?
McRae: I would like to be remembered as a person who did anything and everything to win.
TEMPO: What advice would you give a young person today?
McRae: Like yourself and respect authority. This is what I think is missing in young people today. Choose your friends; don’t let them choose you. Be aware of your environment at all times: Know where you are, who you are with, and what’s going on.