#CardCorner: 1982 Donruss Hal McRae
It was the 99th and 100th RBI of the season for McRae, who was on his way to one of the most productive seasons ever by a designated hitter.
“I’ve got to put some good numbers on the board this year,” the 36-year-old McRae told the Tallahassee Democrat that summer before his impending free agency that winter. “This is my last chance.”
Fortunately for McRae and the Royals, the man who was one of the top DHs of his time still had plenty of playing time left – and helped Kansas City win its first World Series title three years later.
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Born July 10, 1945, in Avon Park, Fla., Harold Abraham McRae was one of 10 children. His father, a former player, coached McRae in amateur league baseball. And with four brothers and almost a dozen cousins living in the same neighborhood, McRae was constantly on the diamond.
After graduating from Douglas High School in Sebring, Fla., McRae enrolled at Florida A&M University in Tallahassee, where he played both football – he scored 18 touchdowns as a halfback in his senior season – and baseball. But he quickly demonstrated that his future was with the National Pastime, starring at shortstop for the Rattlers and displaying uncommon power for a 5-foot-11 middle infielder.
“He had the quickest bat I have ever seen,” Florida A&M coach Costa Kittles told the Democrat of McRae. “I can remember several scouts saying he would not make it to the majors, but Hal was just determined to succeed. He must have ended up hitting about .345, and he was a consistent doubles and triples hitter.”
The Cincinnati Reds selected McRae in the sixth round of the inaugural MLB Draft in 1965 – the same draft that brought Bernie Carbo (first round) and Johnny Bench (second round) to Cincinnati. McRae played in a handful of games for Class A Tampa of the Florida State League in 1965, then hit .287 a year later as a second baseman with the Class A Peninsula Grays of the Carolina League.
On June 21, 1966, Satchel Paige – about two weeks shy of his 60th birthday – pitched two innings for the Grays in what is considered to be his last appearance as a professional in a league game.
“We were all thrilled to meet him and hear the stories,” McRae told the Daily Press in Newport News, Va., in 1994.
McRae and the Royals again reached the ALCS in 1978 and again lost to New York. Then after hitting .288 in 1979, McRae helped Kansas City finally get over the hump in 1980 – hitting .297 with 83 RBI as the Royals won the AL pennant before losing the Philadelphia in the World Series.
McRae would hit .272 with 36 RBI in the strike-shortened 1981 campaign. Following that season, McRae hurt his knee while playing exhibition games with the Royals in Japan. He rehabbed himself with home-designed exercises and running, shedding 20 pounds and reporting to Spring Training in 1982 in the best shape of his career.
His newfound fitness – combined with the fact that McRae was entering the final year of his contract – sharpened his focus to a laser-like quality in 1982.
Following the 1976 season, McRae signed a five-year deal worth $1 million. But by the time of the deal’s final year in 1982, McRae was making just $225,000 and felt underappreciated.
“There are some things that I have not liked about my situation here,” McRae said during the 1982 season when he turned 37 years old. “(But) if I can get a real good season, I could get a two-year contract, which is just about how long I’d like to play.”
Turns out, McRae and the Royals agreed on a three-year deal worth $1.8 million that carried him through the 1985 campaign.
McRae credited Royals hitting coach Rocky Colavito with helping him find another gear at age 37 in 1982 when he consistently hit the ball to the opposite field.
“I can talk and talk to him but I can’t go to bat for him. He had to do that,” Colavito told Gannett News Service. “Mac and I had some damn good discussions about hitting. Hell, he could always hit. I just worked on some things with him.”
McRae finished the 1982 season with big league-leading totals in doubles (46) and RBI (133). It marked the highest-ever RBI mark for a DH to that point and was just the seventh time that any player had reached 133 RBI since the pitcher’s mound was lowered in 1969.
McRae hit .311 with 12 homers and 83 RBI in 1983, then transitioned into a part-time role. In 1985, McRae drove in 70 runs in 112 games as the Royals again advanced to the World Series. This time, Kansas City and McRae captured their elusive ring when the Royals defeated the Cardinals in seven games.
With McRae’s career winding down, the Royals released him on July 21, 1987 and immediately made him their batting coach.
“I was masquerading as a player,” McRae said of his final season. “I’m OK. I’ll survive.”
McRae served as the Pittsburgh Pirates hitting coach in 1988 and 1989 then moved onto Montreal in the same capacity, earning the reputation as a top managerial candidate. On May 24, 1991 – after dismissing John Wathan – the Royals named McRae as their manager.
“I think a lot of Hal McRae,” said Royals owner Ewing Kauffman. “He’s got the intensity and drive that would be wonderful for us.”
McRae managed the Royals through the 1994 season, finishing above .500 in three of his seasons and writing the name of his son, Brian McRae, in the lineup each year. He managed Tampa Bay in 2001 and 2002 with stints in between as hitting coach for the Reds and Phillies. He later worked with Tony La Russa as the Cardinals hitting coach before retiring from the game.
McRae finished his 19-year playing career with a .290 batting average, 2,091 hits, 484 doubles, 1,097 RBI and three All-Star Game selections.
“When you play against him, you detest him,” La Russa said in 1982. “But you would love to have him on your side.”
Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum