Happy anniversary, Lee Elia and Hal McRae (NSFW)
If you’re a fan of classic managerial tirades captured for posterity, the last week of April is an opportunity to celebrate the anniversaries of two all-time meltdowns. Friday marks the 20th anniversary of Royals manager Hal McRae’s desk rearrangement, while Monday is the 30th anniversary of Cubs manager Lee Elia’s epic rant. Both are loaded with Not Safe For Work language, though the clip of McRae’s outburst bleeps his curse words out.
Let’s start with the older of the two rants first. In 1983, Elia was in his second year as Cubs manager, coming off a 73-89 record and a fifth-place NL East finish in 1982. As bad as that record was, it represented a marked improvement over the team’s 64-98 showing in 1980 and its strike-shortened 38-65 record in 1981. But as of April 29, 1983, the Cubs had lost 14 of their first 19 games, and Elia was particularly hot under the collar at the reaction of the Wrigley Field fans, so he unleashed an expletive-laced three-minute postgame tirade. According to ESPN’s Wayne Drehs, of the 480 words Elia spewed, 49 were of the NSFW variety. They haven’t been bleeped here, so proceed with caution if you watch this.
Keep in mind that at this point, lights had yet to be installed at the ballpark (that would happen in 1988), so all of the Cubs’ home games were day games. Elia took direct aim at the fan base showing up for those games: “Eighty-five percent of the [expletive] world is working. The other 15 come out here. A [expletive] playground for the [expletive].”
Elia apparently had no idea his words were being recorded, but they were captured by broadcaster Les Grobstein, who shared the tape with the Cubs’ PR department. Predictably, the reaction immediately put Elia’s job in jeopardy. General manager Dallas Green ordered his manager to apologize or be fired, and that night, Elia went on Jack Brickhouse’s radio show to recant.
He was doomed anyway; the axe fell on Aug. 21 with Chicago mired in a 54-69 record. In 1984, with Jim Frey now managing, the Cubs climbed to 95 wins and made the playoffs for the first time since 1945. Elia’s words have nonetheless lived on, and while they have haunted him at times, he eventually turned them into an opportunity to raise money for a cancer charity via autographed baseballs in a case bearing a more fan-friendly recorded message.
As for McRae, the former Royals slugger — a key part of their seven division-winning teams from 1976-1985 — was in his third season as their manager at the time of his outburst in 1993. Kansas City had gone 66-58 after he took over in 1991, but had slumped to 72-90 the following year and were off to a sluggish 7-12 start in 1993. Triggered by a reporter’s postgame question as to why he didn’t call upon George Brett to pinch-hit for Keith Miller in a 5-3 loss to the Tigers, McRae erupted: “Don’t ask me all these stupid-ass [expletive] questions!” He then threw his hands in the air, and began rearranging the manager’s office by creatively distributing the objects on his desk. The NSFW video lives on thanks to YouTube and can be seen here.
Soon the reporters cleared the room. One of them, Alan Eskew of the Topeka Capitol-Journal suffered a sizable cut on his face when hit by a flying tape recorder, as you can see as he exits; he wrote about the experience here. McRae nonetheless continued his ranting, eventually following the reporters out into the hallway, departing after telling them to “Put that in your [expletive] pipe and smoke it.”
Both McRae and the Royals came out of that incident in better shape than Elia and the Cubs. Kansas City actually finished the season 84-78, and went 64-51 in the strike-shortened 1994 season, though McRae was nonetheless fired during the strike as general manager Herk Robinson declared that the team was about to undertake a youth movement. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Royals have posted just one winning season since then, that back in 2003, going from curse words to just plain cursed.