Exclusive Interview – Hitting Coach Hal McRae

Brian Walton goes one-on-one with the Cardinals' new hitting guru.

Like many from my generation, when the name Hal McRae comes to mind, so does the image of the Kansas City Royals of the seventies and eighties when the outfielder and designated hitter was on top of his game. During his 19 major league seasons, McRae played in three All-Star Games and owns a .400 average in 17 World Series contests. He was a .290 career hitter.

McRae has been a hitting coach for three different major league teams (Montreal, Cincinnati and Pittsburgh) and managed both the Royals and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Having spent most of his adult life in uniform, it is what matters most.

Also, as a veteran manager, McRae has the drill of providing pat answers down. Or so I thought until I asked my first question, at least.

What about this job especially appealed to you?

Just being on the field again. Being back here on the field. Being back in uniform. I would have gone anyplace.

You had been in the front office for a couple of seasons, correct?

I was assistant to the general manager (in Tampa Bay), but I would have gone anyplace that would have gotten me back onto the field.

So, was this the first job that came along or the best one?

It was the first one. Although, it is a good opportunity, a great organization. A good ball club, a good manager. It has been one of the top organizations in baseball for a long time. A winning tradition, great fans. But, it was the first opportunity to get back onto the field. I would have taken any opportunity, like I said earlier.

Was it a positive or a negative joining a successful coaching staff that is so well-entrenched like this one is?

It's always a positive. It would have been a positive for any club I would have gone to. But, this is a good situation because there is a good club in place. It is nice to be associated with a good club and good players.

This is a pretty experienced group of hitters that have played successfully for some time. What do you offer to guys like Pujols, Walker, Edmonds and Rolen?

Well, I will find out sometime this spring (laughs). There is always something you can tell them; something you can say. I'll find those things out. It should be fun (repeats for emphasis).

I've noticed you spending extra time with Albert Pujols. Tell me about his routine.

Yeah, that's his program. I am sort of following his program, getting to know the things he likes to do. Learning something about him.

Tell me a little bit more about his program, please.

Well, he's a hard worker. A smart worker. He knows what he needs to do and he knows how to do it, which is a rare combination. But, I am sort of learning things from him.

I see him doing extra work in the cage every day…

Yes, that is his routine. He comes out sometimes in the mornings. He likes to hit right before the game; right after lunch, to get loose for the game. But, he's always working on something. It is fun and informative to listen to him talk and to ask questions and watch what he does and how he does it.

There's not a lot of wasted time with him, is there?

No, no, no. When he comes out and he comes to work, he comes to work on specific things. He knows how he is going to do it, how long he is going to do it and what he is going to do.

Does Pujols' work ethic rub off on some of the younger players?

Yes, I think it can and it should, because he comes out there a lot, he is willing to share information. He doesn't just talk about things. He shows them how to do it, so you can learn things just from watching him.

That is one way of leading, by example, versus standing up and yelling in team meetings, right?

There are all kinds of leaders. He leads by example and others lead by their personality. I think he leads by example. So, we have two types of leaders on the ball club and they're needed and he does a good job. But, he does do it through example.

In your short time here, have you figured out who those vocal leaders are?

No, no. I am trying to help the hitters – the ones who need help. That is primarily my job. You know, everybody is not a Pujols. Everybody is not an Edmonds or a Walker. Or Rolen. Other guys need help, so I am trying to help where I am needed.

Which of the players have stood out so far in terms of ability and approach to hitting?

Well, it's too early. I wouldn't say so. There are some guys with talent, but it is too early to say yet.

Obviously, pitching styles are different between the leagues. Are there any difference in coaching National League hitters versus American League ones?

Nah. It's baseball. One has a DH; the other doesn't. If you can hit a fastball, you have a chance to be successful. If you can't in one league, chances are pretty good you're going to fail.

Do you normally position yourself immediately behind the cage during batting practice?

Yeah, but I move around a little bit. I try to see the guy from an angle.

How much assistance do you actually give a hitter when he is in the cage?

As a rule, we try to do our talking inside the cages. At BP (batting practice), we just try to let guys do their thing. Occasionally, you say something, but you try to avoid being intrusive during BP.

So, the most you might do is remind them of something discussed earlier?

Right, right, right. You like to do it that way. This is all about the time to implement the things you've talked about.

Do you hope to manage again in the future?

I wouldn't shy away from it if I was given an opportunity.

Last question, what is your son Brian up to?

He works for MLB and does some pre and post-game segments on television for Kansas City. He's been with MLB for a couple of years and has been doing TV for a couple of years. He's enjoying it. In fact, he is in Arizona now, at spring training.

Thank you. I appreciate the time. Good luck this upcoming season.

Absolutely.

Brian Walton can be reached at brwalton@earthlink.net.


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