McRae could learn a lot from Williams about Q & A game

Phil Jackman

April 29, 1993|By Phil Jackman

When Dick Williams was finishing off his playing career in Boston, he used to sit at the back of the team bus with the writers.

At first, I thought it was the fancy threads, the snappy repartee and the general all-around good cheer that drew him to our midst. Wrong.

Williams had played a half-dozen positions for five different teams over the course of 13 seasons, so he pretty well knew what that was all about. He had checked out the style of several managers up close, so he pretty well knew what worked and what didn't work.

After playing in the American League for a decade, Dick figured if he wasn't going to manage it was important to get to know the media, particularly the "Knights of the Keyboard," as Ted Williams once disaffectionately dubbed all newspaper guys. After all, they were there every day, on the buses, on the planes, in the hair.

He went on to manage five teams in both leagues for 17 seasons, finishing first five times, second three times and third twice. In other words, Williams was a big success, mainly for one reason: He knew what the job entailed.

On the surface, there's not a whole lot to managing a baseball team: Show up at the ballpark early, make out the lineup card and grab a seat with a good view in the dugout.

As time passes, note which pitchers have a knack for getting batters out, which hitters hit the ball reasonably well, who can throw and run and catch. It's important to know all these things about opposing players, too. If all else fails, refer to statistics.

It's a pretty good idea to get along with a majority of the players, have a good working relationship with one's superiors and to have a coach or two to pal around with, too. That's the easy part, the part that gets a manager all the way through the day until the end of the ballgame, around 10:30 p.m.

Almost as important, however, are the 15 minutes following the last out. They come at you like locusts. It's the post-game exercise, often referred to as the nightly inquisition.

This Hal McRae thing, it just won't go away will it?

For nearly two years the one-time American League batting champion has been on the job managing the Kansas City Royals and here it is only late April and his team has played just a bit more than 10 percent of its schedule.

Comes a completely innocuous question from a radio guy toting a tape recorder and Hal goes bananas. I mean, it was as if the question, "Did you consider pinch-hitting George Brett for Keith Miller with the bases loaded in the seventh?" was taking a shot at the manager's manhood, his mental ability and his fitness to serve.

McRae deemed it a stupid question. As mentioned, Hal has been on the job for two years and has heard a million dumb questions, but this, certainly, was not one of them.

See, the Royals were trailing the Tigers by four runs at the time DTC and doing nothing at the dish when they up and loaded the sacks with Miller due up. Keith strode plateward with a .143 batting average while Brett sat there with what, 2 million hits on his record?

Instead of saying, "I thought about sending George up, but had a feeling Miller would come through with a big hit," Hal ordered everyone out and decided to aid the process by throwing a fit.

So the guy's a little frustrated, his team getting off to a slow start (9-12). He should be used to it; last year, the Royals went 1-16 out of the box and weren't heard from after the clocks were turned ahead.

Whether or not the question or any question posed by the media is stupid, three-pronged, speculative or brilliant doesn't matter. They're there every night, win, lose or draw. The game gains great benefit from the coverage and Hal's there to serve. He should know that, or did he think showing up early, making out a lineup card and grabbing a seat with a good view in the dugout was it for him?

If Brett had pinch-hit and popped up, McRae would have been asked why he took Miller out. For almost everything that happens in a ballgame, there's a why and a why not. There's no foolproof answer to when a pitcher should be lifted.

Dick Williams began realizing that years ago when he used to sit at the back of the bus. Rarely in all the years he managed did anyone upset him to an extreme or cause him to doubt his ability to handle a team or a game. One of Dick's favorite tricks used to be to turn the question around and ask the inquisitor, "What would you have done?"

One night, I answered, "That's a stupid question," but he got the last word by replying, "Welcome to the club."

Heed the message, Hal McRae, or it's going to be a long season if not career.

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