2.) HAL McRAE
When then Kansas City Royals general manager Cedric Tallis traded outfielder Richie Scheinblum and pitcher Roger Nelson for 27-year-old outfielder Hal McRae and pitcher Wayne Simpson in 1973, he was in a position much like his distant successor Dayton Moore was in 40 years later.
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Tallis had built a franchise from scratch in 1969, and needed a leader to show a talented young team how to win. Hal McRae, who had grown up in a Cincinnati system that would soon produce a dynasty remembered as “The Big Red Machine” today, was that guy.
McRae bought a hard-nosed National League brand of baseball to Kansas City, which was the perfect fit for the massive outfield expanse and fast artificial turf of what was then called Royals Stadium. He taught the young KC Royals to go from first to third, to slide hard into middle infielders to break up double plays, and how to scratch for every little advantage available.
Hal McRae had learned this brand of baseball from Cincinnati legend Pete Rose, along with future Hall-of-Famers Johnny Bench, Joe Morgan, Tony Perez, and manager Sparky Anderson. In many ways, the Kansas City Royals became a National League team that played in the American League.
McRae was so aggressive on the basepaths, that MLB created the McRae rule prohibiting base-runners from crashing into infielders far away from the bag after McRae demolished Yankee second baseman Willie Randolf in the 1977 playoffs:
Along with teaching the young KC Royals how to win, McRae also became the early prototype for the new designated hitter rule that the American League adopted in 1973. Though surpassed by later designated hitters like Seattle’s Edgar Martinez and Chicago’s Frank Thomas, McRae showed the value that a poor defender with a good bat could bring to the DH role.
But, Hal McRae’s true legacy is he created a Kansas City Royals style of baseball that influenced a teenage Dayton Moore, who grew up a fan of that team. Much of the way the current KC Royals plays today can be traced to the franchise model that Hal McRae established in the mid-70’s.
Next: The Franchise Icon