Forget the infamous rant, Hal McRae was great to work with

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It was perhaps the most misunderstood rant of all time, the infamous Hal McRae explosion inside his office below Kauffman Stadium.

Friday, April 26, happened to be the 20-year anniversary of the rant, and two of us who were there, Alan Eskew, then of the Topeka Capital-Journal, and myself (then with The Kansas City Star), reminisced Friday a few feet away from where McRae went off.

Eskew, became somewhat famous for a while after that night. He is the reporter exiting McRae’s office with blood running down his face, the result of a gash from a flying object neither one of us, to this day, can identify.

“You were quicker than me,” Eskew says now, laughing. “You ducked. I didn’t.”

Eskew and I had been standing next to each other when the eruption started.

There were very few reporters on hand that night in 1993. Eskew and I were the two beat writers, and were accompanied by just a few other reporters during the famous postgame chat with McRae.

It was a cold, clammy, early-season night, and the Royals had wasted numerous scoring chances on their way to a 5-3 loss to Detroit. It was the type of agonizing loss that McRae had experienced frequently in just his second full season as manager of the Royals.

The season before, the Royals had started 1-16. In 1993, they started 2-9, and by this late April game, the team was still sputtering, so the two-run loss was more than testing McRae’s patience.

John Doolittle, a Kansas City radio talk-show host, set things off by asking questioning why McRae didn’t have his son, Brian, bunting in the bottom of the ninth. McRae, annoyed, still managed to answer in a civil fashion.

But then Doolittle asked McRae why he didn’t pinch hit George Brett in the seventh inning, which McRae deemed an idiotic question because most managers would naturally save their best weapon for the ninth.

McRae had had enough, and the tirade started.

“Don`t ask me such stupid (expletive) questions. That`s it,” McRae said, and with that he started clearing his desk off, swinging wildly and flinging everything he could find.

And, of course, he continued to rant.

Eskew and I remember stepping to the back of McRae’s office, with the idea of just letting him vent. Of course, we also knew there was less chance of getting hit by some of the flying objects.

Neither Eskew nor I remember what object came our way — a phone, a tape recorder, a glass ash tray, whatever. Some object came flying, missed me and hit Eskew flush.

At that point, the reporters exited the office as McRae’s rant continued.

                 

                 

As I looked at Eskew, I finally noticed that he was bleeding from about a 1½-inch cut on his cheek. McRae, meanwhile, stepped out of his office and began ranting at his players, challenging them and daring them to come get a piece of him.

It then ended when McRae — I always found this hilarious — shouted, “Now, put that in your (expletive) pipe and smoke it.”

Eskew was tended to by the Royals trainer, but Eskew’s biggest concern was whether or not he was going to make his first deadline, the early state-edition one. He ended up missing that one, by 18 minutes, but he later made his city-edition deadline.

One of the most interesting developments came the next day when Eskew’s phone began ringing constantly — numerous radio stations and newspapers from Tampa, Fla., to Toronto wanted to interview him about the experience.

Eskew declined them all — which I always admired.

“I’m not part of the news. I cover it,” he said then.

Eskew, who now freelances for The Associated Press, still feels that way today, though he admits it would be harder to avoid his 15 minutes of fame.

“With all the social media there is,” he said, “it would have been on Twitter that night, and people would be texting me and Tweeting and emailing and everything else. It would have been tougher to get away from it.”

Eskew and I also agree on something else: The entire incident gave McRae an unfair reputation, at least from afar, that he was difficult to work with.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

As beat writers, we felt McRae was as good as it gets to work with. He answered our questions honestly and openly, had great respect for our deadlines, and trusted us enough to have routine off-the-record conversations.

As good managers do with beat writers, McRae helped teach us the game from his inside perspective. That’s a valuable source of information any journalist should covet. There was never any animosity between McRae and the Kansas City media, despite what the “rant” would imply.

In fact, when McRae apologized to Eskew the next day. Eskew laughed and told the skipper, “Thanks, but no need to. Just buy me a crab dinner the next time we go to Baltimore.”