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Hal McRae never carried the duffel bag full of bats in his car. He never was in charge of the stuffed canvas bases. He never made those million-and-one phone calls on a drizzly morning—"Yes, the game is still on"—to a list of names and numbers on a mimeographed sheet. He never presided over the awards dinner at the local Pizza Hut, handing out satin jackets and extra-cheese slices to the winners of the postseason tournament. Hal McRae never managed his son.
"I was busy," the new Kansas City Royals manager says. "I was playing baseball. I was on the road. I had games every night. How could I be involved with any of my son's teams? I didn't even have a chance to watch his games."
For 23 years, the demands of a professional baseball life were constant. How could McRae be a full-time dad? There were 162 games in a major league season, and there was spring training in March and eight trips to the playoffs and four to the World Series in the fall. What could he do? He was in Syracuse when the first son was born in Bradenton, Fla. When the second son arrived, McRae was with the Royals in Chicago. He did not see that son until six weeks had passed. McRae was at home for the birth of his daughter. She had the good sense to be born in the off-season.
There was an endless list of family events missed, of childhood milestones that came and went without him. The first words were missed. The first steps were missed. There were no visits to parent-teacher nights. There was little time for class plays or proms or American Legion thrillers. The job of raising the kids belonged mostly to McRae's wife, Johncyna. His job was to hit the slider, to ride with the pitch and spank it in the easiest direction. Five seasons in the minors. Three seasons in Cincinnati. Fifteen in K.C.
He saw the kids as much as he could, of course, and talked with them and listened to their problems, but he could not do more. Baseball paid the bills. Baseball was the every-day drain on his time and energy. There was an irony here, because after a while his older son, Brian, had become very good at this game. Hal did not know how good. He heard about Brian's abilities from his wife and from people in the game, but he could not see for himself. He did not know.
He has become the fourth manager in major league history to manage his son. When he took the Kansas City job on May 24 after John Wathan was fired, McRae joined Connie Mack, Yogi Berra and Cal Ripken Sr. in this small group. Brian is his regular centerfielder. Brian is his leadoff hitter. Brian is one of his team's RBI leaders. It is a bit of a revelation. Hal says he probably has seen Brian play more games since he became manager than he saw in the rest of his son's life.
"How many games is that?" he is asked.
The 45-year-old McRae checks his statistics sheet. On this day the total is 11.