Saturday, November 08, 2008

The 100 Greatest Royals of All-Time

#40 Brian McRae

614 Games .262/.313./.372
30 HR 248 RBI 93 SB

I imagine it must be difficult to work in a career field that your father is famous for excelling in. I pursued a very different career field than my father so there wasn't really any footsteps to fill. But for sons of fathers who began their own successful business, or sons of famous athletes and actors, it must be frustrating to try and shed that "son" label. Some seem to excel. Barry Bonds and Ken Griffey both became better hitters than their fathers, both of whom were quite good. Josh Brolin has seemed to surpass his father's acting career. George W. Bush....well the point is, some sons can overachieve their name.

Royals with MLB Fathers
Scott Northey 1969 (Ron)
Jim Campanis 1969-1970 (Al)
Joe Keough 1969-1972 (Marty)
Jerry Martin 1982-1983 (Barney)
Danny Tartabull 1987-1991 (Jose)
Kurt Stillwell 1988-1991 (Ron)
Bob Boone 1989-1990 (Ray)
Mel Stottlemyre Jr. 1990 (Mel Sr.)
Brian McRae 1990-1994 (Hal)
David Howard 1991-1997 (Bruce)
Chris Haney 1992-1998 (Larry)
Jose Mota 1995 (Manny)
Brett Laxton 2000 (Bill)
Dusty Wathan 2002 (John)
Brian Bannister 2007-2008 (Floyd)
Tony Pena Jr. 2007-2008 (Tony Sr.)

Royals with MLB Sons
Bob Oliver 1969-1972 (Darren)
Hal McRae 1973-1987 (Brian)
John Wathan 1976-1985 (Dusty)
Dennis Werth 1982 (Jayson)
Floyd Bannister 1988-1989 (Brian)
Bob Boone 1989-1990 (Bret and Aaron)

Brian McRae was the son of popular Royals hitter Hal McRae and you would expect lofty expectations on the young man. My memory could be off, but I don't recall there being wild expectations for him just for being Hal's son. Brian and Hal McRae were the first father-son tandem in Royals history with John and Dusty Wathan and Floyd and Brian Bannister since joining them.

"I grew up in this ballpark. I know everything about this place. I've been everywhere. In all the tunnels, all the storage rooms. I've watched games from the last seats in the upper deck. I've been running around here since 1973....We played a lot of tape-ball games in the Royals bullpen. We made up our own rules. You'd get various hits for hitting different pieces of equipment stored in the bullpen. A double or something would go off a John Deere tractor. Nobody could hit the ball over the fence. We were just kids."

Brian was born in Bradenton, Florida and split his childhood between Florida and Kansas City. He was a stand out athlete in baseball and football at both Manatee High School in Florida and Blue Springs High School in suburban Kansas City and was offered a football scholarship to the University of Kansas. He was expected to be taken in later rounds of the MLB draft, but the Royals surprised many when they took McRae in the first round in 1985 and offered him a six figure contract bonus. McRae dismissed his dreams of playing at KU and signed with the Royals.

For his first few professional seasons, McRae looked like he had been an over-reach in the draft. The switch-hitting second baseman struggled to hit for much of an average in the minors, and had little power. He stole quite a few bases, but by 1988 he was hitting just .201 for AA Memphis.

Brian moved to the outfield and repeated Memphis the next year, hitting just .227. He spent a third year in Memphis in 1990 and improved his average to .268 and reached double digits in home runs for the first time. When center-fielder Bo Jackson dislocated his shoulder in July, the Royals tried Willie Wilson and Jim Eisenreich. By August they turned to McRae to fill the position and he did not disappoint. He tripled in his very first at bat and hit .286 in forty-six games.

"He came up and did more than we thought he could do. He's got a quick bat and has some pop in it, too. He's a leadoff man now, but he may bat sixth someday. He's got a very good idea about the strike zone, and let's face it, he knows his way around the ballpark."
-Royals scout Buck O'Neill

In 1991, the Royals went young and went with rookie second baseman Terry Shumpert to replace long-time All-Star Frank White, and McRae in centerfield to replace All-Star Willie Wilson. McRae, hitting lead-off, struggled mightily to begin the year with a .143 average after one month. He rebounded a bit in May, but the team continued to struggle and in June they fired manager John Wathan and replaced him with Brian's father Hal.

"It's kind of like having your mother as your teacher in school. I'm trying to become a big league ballplayer. I can't worry about my father. I have to play for myself. That's how this game is."

The Royals responded by playing much better ball in July and August, and Brian McRae began to heat up as well. He went on a twenty-two game hitting streak that summer, the longest streak in the league that season. He would end with a modest .261 average and twenty steals. However he drew just twenty-four walks he had an on-base percentage of .288, awful for a lead-off hitter.

The Royals got off to a terrible start in 1992, dropping sixteen of their first seventeen games. McRae was part of that awful start, going 2-30 to begin the year, and failing to get above the Mendoza Line until June. He did pull off an unassisted double play in a game in August, the first outfielder to pull off the feat in almost twenty years. He would end the year with an awful .223 average, second worst in baseball among those qualifying for the batting title.

McRae would get off to a good start in 1993, hitting .300 much of the year. Brian gave some of the credit to his father, who moved him from the lead-off spot to the second spot in the lineup. He also credited good luck.

"I didn't think I swung the bat as bad as my average last year. I don't think I'm swinging as good as my average this year. "

McRae, a switch hitter, hit .322 from the right side, and just .264 from the left side. Some called for him to give up switch hitting, but he maintained he had more power from the left side. For his career he would hit .250/.328/.388 from the left side, and .290/.337/.416 from the right side.

When the Royals and Rangers met in late July they were battling close behind the White Sox for the division lead. In the first game of the series, Royals pitcher Rick Reed plunked Rangers slugger Rafael Palmeiro, angering Rangers manager Kevin Kennedy. Some clubhouse attendants at Royals Stadium told the Royals they had heard from Kennedy that he planned retaliation. Later in the series, McRae was plunked by Rangers pitcher Bob Patterson, who hadn't hit a batter in three years. McRae was enraged, but rather than head for the pitcher's mound for a scuffle, he made a dash at the Rangers dugout for Kennedy.

"I've never seen it. He surprised me...But when you tell everybody what you're going to do, you force people to do things they don't normally do. He told the world he was going to hit Brian so Brian did what he had to do. "
-Royals Manager Hal McRae

"I figured I couldn't get beat up too bad by the time our guys got over there
-Brian McRae

Hal wanted the Royals to be more aggressive on the basepaths, even if he didn't have particularly good base-stealers. The Royals finished third in caught stealing and ninth in stolen bases. Brian was part of the equation, getting caught fourteen times to just twenty-three steals. Still, he finished hitting .282 with 12 home runs and 69 RBI, easily his best season.

Brian again got off to a sizzling start in 1994 with a pair of four hit games and a five hit game to end the month of May. McRae hit over .300 for the first half of the season, and even began drawing walks and stealing bases at a better rate. The Royals would catch fire in late July, winning fourteen games in a row. Brian would have a base-hit in all but one of those games. In August, the players went on strike and the season was cancelled. McRae would end the season hitting .273 with just 4 home runs and 40 RBI, but a career high 54 walks and 28 steals.

During the strike, owners unilaterally imposed new rules that would have made McRae a restricted free agent, with the Royals given the chance to match any offer. The Chicago Cubs offered him a three year $9 million deal. When the MLBPA and owners finally agreed to a deal, the restricted free agency plan was shelved, and McRae reverted back to arbitration status, rather than free agency status. Still, with Royals owner Ewing Kauffman having passed away the previous season, the team found itself in financial disarray. In a cost cutting move, the Royals shipped McRae to the Cubs in exchange for pitchers Derek Wallace and Geno Morones.

"It's like I'm leaving a family."

McRae would play for the Cubs for two and a half seasons before being dealt to the Mets. In 1999, he would bounce from the Mets to the Rockies to the Blue Jays. After working out with the Cardinals in 2000, McRae decided to retire and work for ESPN. He has gone on to work for and is part owner of 810 WHB in Kansas City as well as the 810 Zone sports bar, and fills in as an analyst on Royals telecasts from time to time.

I'd say Brian has made quite a name for himself.


Anonymous said...

What about Bob Boone? He played for us back in what, '89/'90? His father Ray was also a MLer. And while he didn't play for us, shouldn't we count Buddy Bell, whose father Gus played back in the day...

ChaimMKeller said...

Two things:

1) The Royal whose son is Darren Oliver is Bob Oliver, not Al.

2) I suppose the jury will be out on George W. Bush for some time, and obviously there will be people who are passionate for or against him for quite a while, but it's hard to argue that he didn't surpass his father. He won re-election (his father didn't) he replaced Saddam Hussein with a newer and likely friendlier Iraqi government (his father just settled for getting him out of Kuwait, and it could be argued that it was the elder Bush's leaving soldiers stationed on "Muslim holy territory" to maintain that status quo that got al Qaida fired up in the first place!) and his father certainly didn't do better than he did on the economy or on helping his party for the future overall. Bottom line, however you fel about the second Bush, let's not make the first one out to have been a roaring success that W. couldn't top. By pretty much any standard, he did.

Max said...

Thanks for correcting me on Bob Oliver and I don't know how I overlooked Bob Boone.

As for Bush, I really wasn't trying to make a political statement so I apologize if I offended anyone. I was thinking more about his historically low approval ratings, although now that I think about his father had pretty bad ratings towards the end too. I suppose history will judge both of them someday.