Today in Royals History: Hal McRae makes his first start as the DH

Designated hitter - Topps 1976

The best designated hitter in Royals history fills the role for the first time on this date in 1973.

This year represents the 40th anniversary of the designated hitter rule in the American League.

I'll go out on a limb and guess that most AL clubs didn't know how to approach the designated hitter rule. Sure, there would be some players - like Frank Robinson and Orlando Cepeda - for whom this rule would be a career savior for a brief time. Other teams, like the Royals, would use the DH as kind of a revolving door. For example, the Royals used 12 players as their designated hitter in 1973. In their first eight games of the season, Ed Kirkpatrick, Kurt Bevacqua, Carl Taylor, Gail Hopkins and Steve Hovely all took turns as the DH.

In the ninth game of the Royals season, manager Jack McKeon penciled Hal McRae in the lineup as his designated hitter.

McRae had arrived in Kansas City via Cincinnati the previous November in a trade for Richie Scheinblum and Roger Nelson. In three seasons for the Reds, McRae had been a bit of a super-utility man. He saw time at second, third and all three outfield positions but had grown disillusioned at his lack of playing time. He requested a trade and the Reds obliged. The Royals planned to use McRae as their primary right fielder.

McKeon had this to say about the designated hitter role on his club.

"I intend to keep juggling the designated hitter (assignment) in order to keep the morale high. We set out in spring training to find 25 guys who were unselfish and willing to do the little things required to win. I believe we have those 25 men and my philosophy is to keep those 25 men happy."

In 1973, McRae got off to a rough start. Through his first six games, he collected just four hits in 26 at bats. McKeon held him out of the lineup on consecutive games and on April 15, 1973 started him at DH for the first time in his career. That evening, against the White Sox, McRae went 1 for 2, but reached base four times. He scored three runs in a 12-5 win.

Batting AB R H RBI BB SO BA OPS WPA aLI WPA+ WPA- RE24 PO A
Freddie Patek SS 5 1 3 3 0 1 .343 .985 0.151 0.42 0.153 -0.002 2.2 1 3 HR
Bobby Floyd PR-SS 1 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 0.000 0.02 0.000 0.000 -0.9 1 1 GDP
Cookie Rojas 2B 4 0 1 1 0 1 .368 .919 -0.017 0.33 0.003 -0.020 -0.8 1 6 SF
Amos Otis CF 5 1 1 0 0 0 .300 .858 0.002 0.18 0.018 -0.017 -0.7 1 0 2B,GDP
John Mayberry 1B 4 3 2 2 1 1 .273 1.004 0.041 0.15 0.042 0.000 1.9 11 0 HR,2B
Hal McRae DH 2 3 1 2 2 0 .179 .679 0.174 0.19 0.174 0.000 2.6 HR,HBP
Lou Piniella LF 4 0 1 0 0 0 .219 .601 -0.009 0.15 0.000 -0.010 -0.2 0 0
Steve Hovley LF 1 0 0 0 0 0 .286 .571 0.000 0.01 0.000 0.000 -0.2 0 0
Ed Kirkpatrick RF 5 2 2 3 0 1 .286 1.048 0.050 0.18 0.051 -0.001 1.5 4 0 HR
Paul Schaal 3B 2 2 1 0 3 1 .310 .743 0.053 0.18 0.054 -0.001 1.6 1 1
Carl Taylor C 5 0 2 1 0 1 .267 .646 -0.033 0.18 0.002 -0.034 0.5 7 0 2B
Steve Busby P 0 0
Tom Burgmeier P 0 1
Team Totals 38 12 14 12 6 6 .368 1.220 0.412 0.21 0.497 -0.085 7.5 27 12

The rest and the time as DH didn't exactly jumpstart McRae's season. He struggled for much of '73 and didn't hit his stride until August. His first season in Kansas City was his least productive until 1986, when as a 40 year old, he appeared in 112 games for the Royals. Still for the 1973 season, McRae was the Royals most frequently used DH, filling the role 33 times for McKeon. McRae was the primary DH in 1974, 1976 and 1977. (Harmon Killebrew was the Royals main DH in 1975. McRae was in that position only 12 times that season.) He didn't become the Royals full time DH until 1978.

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