Friday, October 28, 2011

#25 Hal McRae

Card: Here is Hal McRae on card number 25, his 14th Topps card.  McRae's first card was with fellow Reds prospect Bill Henry way back in the '68 set.  McRae next showed up on a three player card in '70 before getting his own card in '71.  In all, McRae appeared on 18 cards as a player and several more as a manager.

Picture: This is a really nice card.  I like the way the light blue and purple colors on the border compliment the blues of McRae's uniform as he digs in at the plate.  The seats in the background are blue and some blurry person is wearing a purple-ish shirt.

Player: McRae was drafted by the Reds in 1965 and came up through their system as a speedy second baseman.  McRae made his MLB debut with the Reds in '68 playing 17 games. That winter while playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, McRae broke his leg in four places sliding into home plate.  This had a big impact on his career in that it took away a good deal of his speed, limited his range in the field, and cost him almost all of the '69 season.  McRae battled back but his '69 campaign was limited to a handful of games at AAA Indianapolis.

McRae was moved to LF and stuck with the Reds for the entire '70 season as a reserve, batting .248 with 8 HR in 165 at bats.  After going 0-4 versus the Pirates in the NLCS, McRae went 5-11 in a losing effort against the Orioles in the 1970 World Series.  McRae saw increased playing time in '71 and batted .264 with 24 doubles and 9 homers in 337 at bats.  1972 was a different story as the Reds used McRae almost almost exclusively as a pinch hitter. Used in that role in 42 of his 61 games, McRae was productive and batted .278 and 9 extra base hits in 97 at bats. McRae didn't bat in the NLCS but batted 4 for 9 as the Reds lost to the A's in the World Series.  Before the calendar turned to '73, the Reds swapped McRae and Wayne Simpson to the Royals for Roger Nelson and Richie Scheinblum.  You can judge for yourself who got the better of the deal.

The Royals utilized McRae as a part time RF/DH in '73 and he struggled to adapt to the new league batting only .234.  In '74 McRae became a full-time player mostly at DH and he delivered with .310/.375/.475 slash stats.  Taking advantage of the spacious outfield in Kansas City McRae knocked 36 doubles and drove in 88 runs.

With Harmon Killebrew playing his swan song in Kansas City, McRae played left field more than DH in '75.  McRae continued to hit, batting .306 with 38 doubles.  Employed at DH in '76 McRae batted .332 finishing just behind teammate George Brett in the infamous batting race.  McRae claimed that the Twins let Brett's fly ball drop in the last game because they wanted a white player to win the title.  McRae did have a fine season, leading the AL in OBP (.406) and OPS (.868).   McRae batted 2 for 16 as the Royals lost in five games to the Yankees in the ALCS. 

Playing every game on th '77 schedule, McRae hit an AL high 54 doubles, and his 11 triples, 21 HR, and 92 RBI were all career highs.  Despite McRae batting 8 for 18 with three doubles and a HR, the Royals were bounced out of the playoffs by the Bronx Bombers again.  During game 2 of the series, McRae steam rolled Willie Randolph to break up a double play. This helped institute the rule that runners must slide into second and can't knock middle infielders into oblivion.

McRae's stats dropped off in '78 and although he ripped 39 doubles his average slipped to .273.  The Yankees dispatched of McRae and the Royals for a third consecutive year as McRae went 3-14 in four games.  In '79 McRae missed time with a shoulder injury and would bat .288 in 101 games. 

McRae would again be bothered with injuries in '80 but he still put up some big time numbers.  Playing in 124 games McRae batted .297 and hit 39 more doubles as the Royals won the AL West for the fourth time in five years.  After beating the rival Yanks in three games, the Royals lost to the Phillies in the World Series despite nine hits from McRae.
McRae's struggled in the strike shortened '81 (.272 BA, .396 SLG) and the Royals lost in the ALDS to the A's. McRae came back with a monster season in '82 batting .308 with a career high 27 HR and 133 RBI. His RBI total led the league as did his 46 doubles. 

Even though the home runs dropped to 12, 1983 was another good season for McRae as he batted .311 with 41 doubles.  In 1984 McRae was slumping badly, batting .250 with only one home run when the veteran lost his starting DH gig in June.  McRae still played semi-regularly and brought his average up to .303 but he only had 20 extra base hits for the year.  McRae had hits in both pinch hitting appearances in the '84 ALCS, but once again the Royals fell short, this time getting swept by the Tigers.

Playing part time in '85, McRae batted only .259 but contributed with 19 doubles and 14 home runs in 320 at bats as the Royals won the AL West.  The Royals made it past the Blue Jays and played the Cardinals in the '85 World Series.  Pinch hitting three times, McRae got on base twice with a walk and a HBP.  The Royals triumphed over the Cards and in his ninth trip to the post season, at age 40, McRae had finally won a championship.
McRae played part time again in '86 and batted only .252.  He came back to the Royals in '87 but was used very little and was released in July despite a .313 average in 32 at bats. 

Flipside: Looking at his Reds years from '68-'72 on the back of his card here, I can't help but wonder what might have happened if McRae hadn't broken his leg.  Would he have earned a starting spot in the Reds outfield? Could he have been a part of the mid-seventies Big Red Machine? 
Oddball: McRae hit a lot of doubles. A ton. 23.1% of his career hits were doubles.  Where does this rank? I'm not really sure.  I looked at 50 or 60  players from the doubles career leaders list and found only one player who had a higher percentage...Bobby Areau at 23.2% and that will likely drop if he keeps playing.

History: McRae was a great hitter, a three time All-Star, and baseball's first full time DH.  McRae had six seasons where he didn't need a glove.  McRae was on some great teams and won a championship with the Royals. 
After his playing career he managed the Royals from '91-'94 and the Devil Rays from '01-02.  Of course if you punch in "Hal McRae" in any search engine the first thing you find is his legendary blow-up while addressing the KC media in '93.
McRae has been a hitting coach for the Reds, Phillies and Cardinals, winning another ring while he was with the Redbirds in '06. 
Hal's son Brian was a decent player who racked up 1,336 hits in his ten year career.  In fact Brian was drafted in the first round by the Royals in '85 when his ol' man was helping the Royals to their only championship.

1 comment:

  1. Always loved McRae. Actually, being I was mostly a Yankees fan at 8 & 9 years old, I should reword that sentence... more like, my love for McRae showed up as hate. You know, it's the respect thing. He was one of those players that you really thought could turn the game against your team. I think a lot of people nowadays forget how good Hal was. The Royals were potent with him & Brett in the middle of the lineup.