I cannot tell all of you how much I enjoy writing this column. Every week is an adventure and it has been so much fun. I do not pretend to remember all of these events, or players from the top of my head. I do quite a bit of research for these columns and it ends up being a lot of fun. I see names or particular events that recall vivid memories of baseball, or just life in general. That is my sickness in being a Cubs fan. In terms of baseball, it is all I have ever known. Because of that, there are players and events that tie themselves together with my life. So every week, when I begin a new column I get to take little trips down memory lane. I find myself enjoying memories and being reminded of things that have long since slipped my mind. That is why, not every player that I have profiled has been a particular fan favorite, or even favorites of mine. Mostly they are just guys who occupy a place in time for me personally. I have been a Cubs fan for most of my life, so there is a certain nostalgia involved when I see or hear a particular name that sparks a particular memory for me. This week’s column is no different.
The early 90’s were tough for me, they were for most Cub fans, but I think I took them particularly hard. I spent the late summer of 1989 in basic training. I was thrilled about the Cubs all season long, only to spend the whole post season locked away from baseball. Stolen glimpses of sports pages told me that things weren’t going well for the Cubs and their eventual demise was a huge let down. Yet, there I was playing the eternal optimist and building pretty high hopes for Cubs baseball in the 90’s. I would spend the first half of the decade living in St. Louis and dealing with the fact that despite the hopeful beginnings to the decade, the Cubs could finish no better than 4th in the NL East from 1990-1993. Losing guys like Dawson and Maddux was tough enough, but then came 1994. The baseball strike and Sandberg’s retirement was testing my love for the Cubs, and baseball in general.
During the spring of 1995 a friend of mine, a Kansas City Royals fan no less, would end up getting me excited about baseball all over again. I remember the day perfectly because this friend, Kevin, who was a huge Royals fan ran into me at a bar. We didn’t see each other often, but when we did, it was usually baseball that we talked about. When he asked me about the Cubs, my indifference was obvious. Kevin could not believe how down I was on the Cubs, and how little I knew about the upcoming season. Being a good guy, he could tell that I needed a little lift. He talked rabidly about the Cubs talented young outfield, in particular, the addition of the Royal’s Brian McRae. I knew who Brian McRae was, it was hard not to. Over the last few years a lot had been made about Brian playing for his managing father, Hal McRae, in Kansas City.
Fulfilling a family legacy, Brian McRae was drafted by the Royals in 1985. The same year that his father was helping them win a world series. Brian would make his eventual major league debut in August of 1990. One year after Brian’s debut, his father would become the manager of the Royals in 1991. Brian would end up playing three full seasons for his father in Kansas City before being trade to the Cubs for Geno Morones and Derek Wallace in 1995. Despite McRae never really becoming a star, the Cubs really got one over on KC.
To tell you the truth, there isn’t too much glamour to McRae’s short Cubs career. There really isn’t too much glamour to his entire career. McRae was, by definition, a journeyman. He was durable, a decent hitter, and good base stealer. What makes me mention Brian McRae is his attitude and demeanor.
Early in the 1995 season when the Cubs came to St. Louis, Kevin bought some bleacher seat tickets and treated me to a game. Kevin wore a McRae Royals jersey and I wore an old Sandberg jersey. We went early and hung around during BP. McRae was shagging fly balls and we were hanging over the wall enjoying some of the give and take you don’t see so much anymore. McRae noticed Kevin’s jersey and talked with us quite a bit. He was super nice and personable. Even to the Cardinals fans who were giving him a hard time. We were BS-ing with McRae and when he went in to hit we jokingly told him to try and hit a couple to us. McRae knocked a couple around the park and then very obviously began trying to hit balls our way. Not known for his power we weren’t sure if we would get a chance. Before long one particularly good crack of the bat sent a ball right at us. Leaning into flower bed that used to separate the bleachers and the outfield wall at Busch II, I strained against 5 or 6 other people to reach for the home run. I stretched to catch the ball and ‘WHAM!’ it hit the padding just out of our reach and went bouncing back in to the outfield. So close! We laughed it off and settled in to keep our first row bleacher seats for the game. When the Cubs took the field in the bottom of the first McRae ran out early, came straight to our section of the bleachers and tossed us each a ball. I still have mine to this day. The Cubs won and some of my faith was restored in baseball, and baseball players that day. I met McRae one other time a few years later, and I brought up that day to him. He laughed as if he remembered and signed an autograph for me. I don’t know if he really remembered it or not, but he acted as if he did and was just as friendly as that first day. McRae went on to be traded to the Mets, then to the Rockies, and eventually to the Blue Jays where he would end his 10 year career. He would also go on become an analyst for ESPN and currently works as a radio host for MLB.com.
So while Brian McRae didn’t offer a whole lot to the baseball world, or to the Cubs. He did occupy a place in time in my life. When I needed a little pick me up from baseball, McRae gave it to me. Never mind the fact that he might have been hopped up on “greenies” while doing it. It was insignificant and fairly trivial, but it was something that I needed. Another peice of my life tied to the Cubs that I’ll never forget it.
As we drive on, that’s my View Through The Rear View.
Through the Rear View appears every Wednesday. If you have a topic to suggest, send Tony an e-mail.