Today in Royals history: Hal McRae loses his mind

Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

And breaks my tape recorder.

A simple question:

Did you consider Brett for Miller with the bases loaded in the seventh?

A complex response:

My story:

In 1993, I was a senior at KU working toward my degree in broadcast news. I knew I didn't want to go into news (I'm an idiot, not an asshole.) so I naturally gravitated toward sports. I did some play by play of high school football, did some KU football and basketball and called semi-pro baseball games. I was also the sports director at the campus radio station. Sometime in January or February, I went into the office of Tom Hedrick who taught a sportscasting class and was an advisor to the radio station's sports department.

Hedrick was an absolute classic. He wasn't big on thinking. He just did things. So I go into his office and tell him I think it would be worth my time to intern for WDAF-AM and work on their Royals broadcasts.

"That's a great idea," Hedrick says.

He turns to his Rolodex and flips a few cards, picks up the phone and dials.

"Hello. Brian?" Hedrick is calling Brian Kelly, the sports director at WDAF and the host of the pre and post game shows.

"Tom Hedrick here, from the University of Kansas. I have a fine young man in my sports department who I think would be a great intern for you and your station." At this point, Hedrick leans back in his chair, smiles and winks at me. This is all he had to do. I was in.

I report to work at Royals Stadium in April of '93. My job is to get the lineups and maybe some pregame sound from a player. Then I hang out in the booth for the show, grab a quick dinner and watch the game. The WDAF booth was on the first base side of the press box at the very end. Just prime seating. I'm not getting paid a dime (this is radio, after all) and loving every minute. The usual co-hosts on the show were ex-Royals Al Fitzmorris and Steve Renko. Fitzmorris was an absolute riot. Seriously, the funniest guy I ever met. Such a wonderful story teller. I have no idea how much was real, but it all sounded good. Renko was a great guy to be around, too. I would say he was more thoughtful and low key and was very quick to discuss strategy with me. I learned so much just from sitting with those guys watching games. It was a helluva classroom.

Another part of my job was to get post game sound bytes from Hal McRae. Back then, the Royals hosted these sessions in the manager's office. It was always just kind of an informal get together. Guys would herd into the room, set their recorders down on the desk and ask a couple of questions. Usually took ten minutes. Maybe less after a loss. As a stranger in a strange land, I was more interested in survival and self-preservation. After I placed my recorder on the desk, I'd drop back and let the paid professionals ask the questions. Sometimes, the guys I worked with would ask me to ask a particular question, so I would; otherwise I tried to stay out of the way.

I remember April of 1993 as being a tense time around the team. They were horrible early in '92 and they stumbled quickly again. They lost their first five games (at home) and finished their first homestand with just one win in six games. Things weren't much better on the road where they picked up two wins in six games. A 3-9 record the first two weeks of the season was like a bad flashback. There was a ton of talk about bad starts. A ton.

There was just a weird vibe around the team that month. At least it felt weird to me, but this was my first exposure to a major league clubhouse. David Cone was cool. He always wore a royal blue bathrobe. He probably had fungus on his shower slippers. George Brett was in the middle of the clubhouse, but as the old man on the team, didn't seem to hang with anyone in particular. Maybe Wally Joyner. The Latin players were along one wall. Chico Lind kept machetes in his locker. I remember seeing Phil Hiatt on the second day of the season. He had had a spectacular spring in Florida and was anointed the next big thing, but didn't make the club. However, Keith Miller injured himself on Opening Day and landed on the DL, which meant Hiatt got the call. He arrived in the clubhouse around the time I got there. Mike Macfarlane greeted him, "It's the same game up here. See the ball, hit the ball." Hiatt looked at him like he was wearing a spacesuit and speaking Inuit. Imagine, an Eskimo astronaut. I remember thinking to myself that I had never seen an individual look more uncomfortable and scared. My first experience with the eye test! It worked.

Those first two homestands weren't any fun. I quickly learned that losing clubhouses were the unhappiest places on Earth. Next time you go to a visitation at a funeral, where everyone is shuffling around, avoiding eye contact, low talking... That's the losing clubhouse.

There was quite a bit of that in April of 1993. It wasn't just unhappy. It was dull. Boring. I was regretting my decision to be a radio intern and wondered if it wasn't too late to change my major.

Then McRae went nuts.

It was only a matter of time. In his first full year as manager, the team lost 90 games for the first time since 1970. In what was to be his second full year, his team again couldn't get on track in April. He was feeling the pressure. I won't make excuses for him losing his mind. Even though it's considered the top managerial meltdown of all time, it was totally unprofessional. In retrospect, I understand why it happened.

The tape recorder was still functional, but cosmetically it was a little messed up. And it wasn't an inexpensive piece of equipment to be throwing around the office. Becoming a temporary discus was going to shorten it's lifespan. The radio guys tried to get the Royals to foot the bill for a replacement, but the PR staff stonewalled. I don't remember how - or if - it got resolved. Just another bit of unpleasantness to negotiate.

The Royals actually played decent baseball for a stretch in 1993. They were in first place for most of June before fading down the stretch. It's strange... I went to and scored every single game, yet don't remember much of the summer at all. The McRae thing, Brett's final homestand, the time Fitzmorris spotted Pamela Anderson in the crowd from about 200 feet away... There were some highlights, but for the most part it put a fork in my fandom for three or four years. I just didn't care about baseball that much after 1993. I was probably ready to return in the late '90s, but those Royals teams didn't offer any incentive. I just slowly came back. Game by game.

And I refuse to own a tape recorder.

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