Surely you don’t think Hal McRae’s violent, profane tirade is anything out of the ordinary for major-league baseball managers, do you? We’re talking about a group of people who routinely kick dirt on other grown men, throw entire supplies of bats from the dugout onto the field because a ball traveling at 90 mph looked two inches off the plate, pick up bases and hurl them 50 feet, destroy toilets, sinks, water coolers or anything else within reach of a Louisville Slugger. This is our national pastime.
If not for a reporter getting cut by some projectile bouncing off the wall, McRae’s tirade would be exactly like 1,000 other Neanderthal tantrums baseball people throw because baseball people, as you surely must know, are above reproach or accountability or any standard of behavior to which the rest of us must conform. Guy asks a question you don’t like? Rip the damn phone out of the wall and throw it through a door, why don’t you? It’s as much baseball tradition as hitting the cutoff man.
You name a manager, there’s a profane tantrum story somebody can recount. Lee Elia once stood in the bowels of Wrigley Field and said something to the effect of, “90 percent of the people in Chicago go to work every day, the other 10 percent come here to boo me.” Doug Rader, when he was managing the Rangers, had a tirade so violent he started ripping off his uniform, throwing the pieces everywhere.
One night some reporter made the mistake of asking Tommy Lasorda about Kurt Bevacqua, the opposing hitter who’d hit some Ruthian home run to send the Dodgers to defeat and Lasorda started screaming, “You want me to tell you about (bleeping) Bevacqua?” And it ended a few minutes later with reporters scurrying for cover. Billy Martin did this once a month. Turned over desks, food tables, threatened anybody he didn’t like and some people he did.
Whitey Herzog, whom baseball writers adore, answers every other question by starting out, “What do you mean, asking me that stupid-ass question?” Weaver, years and years ago, spit on a reporter. The guy should have picked up a half-slab of ribs and hit him on his fat head, but that’s another story. Dick Howser, generally agreed to be the sweetest, most mild-mannered man to ever manage, once jumped a cop. A cop! They all do it.
That doesn’t make it right.
It’s not going to stop.
Bobby Bonilla last week, McRae this week. To understand baseball tantrums, you first have to understand that nothing like what McRae did happens in any other sport. Not even boxing.
Yes, coaches and athletes sometimes don’t like the questions we ask. We’re usually trying to get at information they don’t want to give up. So there’s friction. Sometimes, there’ll be a good cussing out. Big deal. It’s show business. You go right back to the guy’s locker the next day and half the time, neither of you can remember a day later what you argued over 24 hours earlier.
If I had a dollar for every time Lefty Driesell said he was going to stop talking to me, I’d be retired to Monte Carlo, but it would sometimes end up with Lefty inviting me to his house for pancakes. There’s a confrontation or two every year in an NFL locker room, usually not worth recounting. You rarely find anything beyond mild agitation in NBA and NHL locker rooms. But baseball is another story entirely.
Reporters and baseball players (managers especially) spend entirely too much time together. Oscar Madison used to show up in the press box in the second inning with a hotdog hanging out of his mouth. Now, baseball writers show up in the dressing room at 3:30 for a 7:30 game. This makes for four hours of writers walking in circles in the dressing room, sometimes asking players and coaches inane questions about some lug’s “batting average in late-inning pressure situations,” or “RISP” (did you know that runners in scoring position is now in some box scores?) or “holds” or “blown saves.” When I covered baseball in the mid ‘80s, we’d hang around the clubhouse for two hours, the batting cage for two more, the clubhouse again, come back to the clubhouse after the game, then (if you go to bars) see these same faces half the night.
I don’t want to see anybody in his underwear for six to eight hours a day minimum. I know they don’t want to see me. This is every single day for the better part of eight months including spring training.
I used to love baseball dearly. One summer of covering the Orioles full-time in 1985 made me hate it. The players and the writers. Everything in excess. Every pitch, every move and countermove is overanalyzed to death. “So Bruno, why is it you have trouble hitting lefties, on turf, on the road, with less than two strikes, in late-inning-pressure situations, the day after a night game, when you’re hitting in the two-hole, without the big fella batting behind you?”
This is no excuse for tearing up a clubhouse as McRae did, for having lunatic outbursts, but this is the reality of major-league baseball. McRae, from all accounts, is much closer to Howser than Billy Martin. Some people wonder why he never ranted, never raved, never lost it like most of his brethren. Now, they don’t have to wonder. Hal McRae, because the Royals are bad and getting worse, is going to be fired sooner than later. A successor will come and history tells us that, regardless of who replaces him, the walls, along with reporters who don’t duck, are best advised to stand at their own risk.