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Hal McRae thought the 1976 batting title was stolen from him in a racist plot

Feb 10, 2010, 12:20 PM EDT

From the Department of I Had No Idea This Ever Happened comes the racial controversy over the 1976 A.L. batting title.  The part I knew about: the race came down to the last day between teammates George Brett and Hal McRae. In their last at bats, Brett hit an inside the park home run and McRae grounded out: title Brett.

The part I had no idea about: McRae believed there to be a racist conspiracy in play to throw the title to Brett:

After the game, McRae claimed that the Twins conspired to give Brett the title. Racism, McRae said, was the motivation . . . McRae’s claim centered on the argument that [Twins’ outfielder Steve] Brye was playing too deep
(at Mauch’s instruction) and that Brye likely hesitated on Brett’s
flyball, letting it fall . . . Brett also is quoted as saying, “I think maybe the Twins made me a
present of the batting championship, and if they did, I feel just as
bad about it as Hal does”.

All that came from a 1976 copy of the Sporting News unearthed by the Royals Review blog.  The kicker: it was just in some ordinary story on page 31, unaccompanied by any commentary or anything.  And nothing else ever really came of it.

Royals Review asks the question I had the moment I started reading it: can you imagine if that happened today.  The commentary explosion would definitely be something to behold. Most of it would probably be pretty predictable, of course.

I think it would be worth it alone just to see what the K.C. Star’s Jason Whitlock would do. I can’t decide if he would go with the conspiracy theory angle (his Jeff George articles are classics of the genre), the straight up racism story, or if he would go with what is perhaps his greatest strength and take the really, really contrary angle and, I dunno, accuse McRae of hatching his own conspiracy to create the batting title conspiracy and then use the rest of the column to slam ESPN and the nation’s culture.

  1. Garrett - Feb 10, 2010 at 12:26 PM

    Garrett is testing

  2. REB - Feb 10, 2010 at 12:45 PM

    wow. Let’s run with this, hopefully this gets picked up and goes mainstream. Would be nice to get to the bottom of it, and possibly Selig gives McRae a consolation title.

  3. Jon Weisman - Feb 10, 2010 at 12:58 PM

    I remember this controversy when it happened, Craig, and I was not quite 9 at the time and in Los Angeles, so it must have registered some on a national scale.

  4. ecp - Feb 10, 2010 at 1:04 PM

    Fortunately for all of us, it appears that the KC Star has forbidden Jason Whitlock to write about baseball at all.

  5. Fast Eddy - Feb 10, 2010 at 1:28 PM

    Well, why bring it up now? Is there any good to gain with this incident which happened over 30 years ago. I guess that Hal would say that he was let go as hitting coach for St. Louis was a racist action. Of course he will bring this up in 25 to 30 years.

  6. Wooden U. Lykteneau - Feb 10, 2010 at 1:46 PM

    Anyone have access to Lexis-Nexis? Am I the only one who noticed that the publication date is a Saturday?

  7. smokehouse - Feb 10, 2010 at 1:48 PM

    Hal McRae is being a racist again. Nothing new here. He was a racist while still in a KC uniform and in the clubhouse.

  8. BC - Feb 10, 2010 at 1:58 PM

    I will say this – he had the greatest managerial blowup I’ve seen this side of Lee Elia:

  9. Ron - Feb 10, 2010 at 2:18 PM

    I was at that game. That game, for some reason, and nothing to do with the incident, turned me into the fan that I am today.
    Retrosheet might prove me wrong, but this is what I remember.
    Brett and McRae and Lyman Bostock were all three in the hunt on the last day. Bostock fell out early with an 0-fer or 1-4 or somethng.
    McRae and Brett went into the 9th with the opportunity for it to go either way. Brett came up and hit a blooper to LF. Steve Brye (oh the names of my youth) was playing deep and the ball fell in for a hit. It then took an Astroturf bounce and went over Brye’s head, who was “charging” in. The ball rolled to the wall and Brett (as the Royals did back then) hustled it out for an inside-the-park homerun.
    McRae was either the next batter, or one after, and grounded out to SS. He knew he had lost the title and Brett had won it. As he was walkin back to the dugout, he started screamin at the Twins bench, and in particular Gene Mauch. He then started towards the Twins bench and had to be restrained by his teammates, in particular Cookie Rojas.
    Eventually, all calmed down and the game ended. In the post-game interviews, McRae went off on the Twins (re: Calvin Griffith, in case you don’t know his story) and Mauch. He accused Mauch and Brye of letting the hit fall on purpose so that Brett would win the title. He never blamed Brett, and congratulated him on that.
    McRae was a good teammate, and the guy calling him a racist doesn’t know what he is talking about. There were very few, if any, racial problems on those teams, and McRae has never been accussed by anyone in Kansas City that I’ve ever known as being racist.
    As far as the incident, I can’t say if it was racist or not. What I can say is, Brye was playing almost to the track on a LH-line drive hitter who had not found his power stroke yet. Yeah, Brett could hit to LF then, but he wasn’t going that deep.
    Maybe it was, and maybe it wasn’t. But Brye was playing a hell of a lot deeper than he needed to be in the 9th inning of a game that didn’t mean anything. Except the batting title.

  10. dan Turner - Feb 10, 2010 at 2:37 PM

    That last, at-the-game commentary was excellent. You know you’re old when people express astonishment that something might have happened that we all knew about at the time. There was A LOT of commentary at the time, and not much doubt about what Brye did. In fact, before he realized what a backlash it would cause, I recall that he even conceded that he wanted the white guy to win the batting title. Anybody who thinks McRae wasn’t robbed is looking at history from an odd, but not unusual, angle.

  11. The Common Man - Feb 10, 2010 at 2:57 PM

    Look, I wasn’t there and I don’t know exactly what happened. But Lyman Bostock was a Twin and he was black. For that matter, Tony Oliva and Rod Carew were dark-skinned Latinos, both of whom won batting titles as Twins. The Twins had an extensive history of playing and supporting black and Latino players. Also, the Twins had a three run lead in the top of the 9th, even on the last day of the season, if you’re playing for the win, it’s probably defensible to play deep and cut off the extra base. Finally, if the goal was to keep McRae from winning, simply giving Brett a single would have been enough, instead of aggressively misplaying a fly ball into a inside-the-park homer.
    I am sure McRae was emotional over missing the batting title and I hope he just overreacted. He has always struck me as an excellent player and a decent guy. By the way, morons who are upset at McRae, HE is not the one bringing this up, another blogger is writing about an unexplored controversy in baseball history. And Craig is commenting on that blogger’s article. It’s all very meta here in the Interwebz. Also, Billy Beane did not write Moneyball. And Jesus didn’t write the Bible. Good God, read the post. Did you leave your reading comprehension skills in 5th grade???

  12. frank pepe - Feb 10, 2010 at 2:59 PM

    great post

  13. Rays fan - Feb 10, 2010 at 3:02 PM

    The comments by the readers at the bottom of the Royals Review article also included a reminder that the batting title race came down to 4 players on the last day–Brett, McCrae, Rod Carew & Lyman Bostock. Carew and Bostock were both Twins. Any conspiracy by the Twins would have far more likely been to try to favor their teammates than Brett over McCrae. (Final averages were Brett .333, McCrae .332, and Carew .331.) McCrae could have prevented everything himself by getting a hit himself in his final at bat, or not slumping over the last two weeks of the season, which he did.

  14. Ron - Feb 10, 2010 at 3:11 PM

    TCM, good points about Bostock and Carew. That always made it confusing.
    Just to clarify, the homerun was incidental. The ball took a huge bounce and went over Brye’s head. The controversy was that he let it fall in. Irregardless of a single or a homerun, it was the that gave Brett the title.
    I’m not accusing Mauch or Brye of anything, but Brye was playin way too deep. Deeper than he had the entire game. The Royals had already clinched the division, and one more win or loss for any team wasn’t go to make any difference in the standins.
    As I said, I don’t know, but I do know that Brye’s defensive positioning was completely out of whack with the game situation. Particularly since Brett didn’t hit for power to LF.

  15. dan Turner - Feb 10, 2010 at 3:12 PM

    Sorry, I withdraw my recollection that Brye acknowledged that he wanted the white guy to win. I have searched the subject, and all I can find is what seems like a heartfelt statement that this was NOT his intention at all. So . . . who know? I thought I did, but I don’t.

  16. Ron - Feb 10, 2010 at 3:31 PM

    Also, to try and confuse the issue even more. As I remember, Brye did not play that deep on the ensuing batters, to include McRae, and played more or a normal depth.
    If someone can call me on that, no issue. But that’s what started the entire thing. After McRae grounded out, he initally pointed at Brye and was screaming at him. Then he went towards Mauch and started screaming at him. I don’t know if he was accussing Mauch of being racist, or accussing him of letting it happen. Semantics, I guess.
    As I remember, Herzog and some of the prominent black players on the team (Otis, Mayberry, White) never accussed the Twins publicy of doing anythin wrong.
    Someone ask Neyer and James what they think. Or better yet, ask Fred White and Denny Matthews.

  17. minnesconsin - Feb 10, 2010 at 3:41 PM

    If this is a comment from KFAN common man, then- COME-ON, MAN! (ok bad nfl network pun, i’m sorry).
    But really: regardless of whether Brye’s gaffe was racist or just lousy fielding, it’s not sound logic to say that, because “The Twins had an extensive history of playing and supporting black and Latino players,” this couldn’t have possibly had anything to do with racism.
    Twins owner Calvin Griffith was a dyed-in-the-wool racist, it’s fairly well-documented. I recall Carew saying something along these lines: “I’m not gonna be another N-WORD on Mr. Griffith’s farm.”
    Look, Carew, Oliva, et al, were great baseball players, which made them very good for BUSINESS – which put $$ in CG’s pockets. That doesn’t mean he wasn’t a racist.

  18. minnesconsin - Feb 10, 2010 at 3:44 PM

    Ron, this is what is called an “in-game adjustment.” following an embarrassing play where a ball bounces over your head and rolls to the wall, would you expect the fielder to trot back out and play in the exact same position?

  19. Pat Cremin - Feb 10, 2010 at 4:07 PM

    I recall that game very clearly, as I was listening to the broadcast, and I recall that the broadcaster said that Brye was playing way too deeply. I recall Mac being furious after he ground out, and that he was yelling at Brye and that he felt that it was a racial thing at the time. He was not being racist as one or two have written, he was simply reacting in a not unusual way. He was sorely dissapointed and he may have overreacted, but even our broadcasters noticed the poor positioning of Brye. Give Mac a break–he surely had enough racist actions against him back in the day.

  20. The Common Man - Feb 10, 2010 at 4:25 PM

    Nope, not that guy. I live elsewhere, and only heard about the other TCM after being alerted to it on these pages. However, I already had a blog and a handle by that name, so I guess there are multiple common men, which I guess makes sense if you think about it.
    I didn’t mean to defend Griffith. The man obviously had problems with alcohol and some deep-seeded Mel-Gibson-esque pent-up problems with African Americans in particular. That said, there is a difference between the way that Griffith may or may not have regarded his players and how they were treated by other members of Twins management and the community at large. If Gene Mauch had antipathy toward African-Americans, and if you think Griffith may have conspired with him to deny a black man the batting title, I’d like to see evidence of it, aside from Brye’s apparent terrible defensive positioning. Given that African-Americans and Latinos had been winning batting titles since 1949 (including multiple members of the Minnesota Twins), I don’t know what you think Griffith thought he was trying to accomplish through Mauch, Brye and Brett.
    I mean, I guess this all hinges on Mauch. Has he been accused of racial bias by anybody else? I honestly don’t know.

  21. Terry - Feb 10, 2010 at 5:12 PM


  22. Tha Hamburger - Feb 10, 2010 at 5:16 PM

    This is just stupid. I can’t wait until the day when people quit using racism as a reason for their shortcomings. Seriously…this is just stupid and making a fuss out of nothing.

  23. Ron - Feb 10, 2010 at 5:34 PM

    NO. I would expect a LF’er to play a LH linedrive hitter with no power the opposite way to play in closer, and and to play deep against a RH pull hitter who can go deep.
    Not the other way around. Because it doesn’t make any sense. It didn’t make sense that day, and it still wouldn’t make sense today.

  24. Fast Eddy - Feb 10, 2010 at 7:14 PM

    Look who’s stupid. Why does it matter now? If a moron writes about an incident in history, why does McRae have to comment on it? He can and should have said, it was a long time ago, and no need to bring it up now. Does he think MLB is now going to change the records and give him the title? Enough was said about it at the time, and people are tired of it. Why not bring up the incident in the W-S when he was called safe at 1st., throwing the series to KC when he knew he was out. Was the ump a racist because he called a black man safe when he was out? Do you hear the Cardinals bitching about it today? NO! In fact, the year after the incident, Augie Busch said forget it, and lets go on with the new season. NEVER TO BE DISCUSSED AGAIN BY St.Louis. Hal is just a sore loser and maybe a racist himself for calling others racists with little or no provocation.

  25. The Common Man - Feb 10, 2010 at 7:19 PM

    Cry me a river, dude, I’m sure there’s no such thing as racism today. /sarcasm
    More importantly, once again, McRae was saying these things 34 years ago. Not yesterday, not the day before yesterday, not even last decade. 34 years ago! As in, two years after racist aholes called Hank Aaron a n***er and threatened his life for having the audacity to surpass the Babe. McRae’s concerns aren’t terribly unreasonable in that context, even if I don’t think he’s correct. Moron. Check your blind spot.

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