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Life, not health concerns McRae

By HUBERT MIZELL

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 1, 2001


ST. PETERSBURG -- Three hours before a recent Rays game, I visited the new manager's office. After a handshake, Hal McRae lifted his shirt, loaded a syringe and injected 13 units of insulin below his left ribs.

ST. PETERSBURG -- Three hours before a recent Rays game, I visited the new manager's office. After a handshake, Hal McRae lifted his shirt, loaded a syringe and injected 13 units of insulin below his left ribs.

I was, uh, surprised.

"That'll keep me for a while," he said, smiling big, following with a high-pitched chuckle, upbeat traits so apparent. "Hey, let's make the best of everything."

At 55, McRae totes considerable medical baggage. Not just diabetes. A barrage of inherited maladies, some quite threatening.

"I just don't want to outlive my money," he joked before turning more serious with, "I do what doctors tell me, take what they prescribe, work out regularly and think it's important not to worry unnecessarily."

None of this impedes Harold Abraham McRae's ability, drive, energy and competitive fire to manage. I could not find a Tampa Bay player or anyone in the Rays organization who was aware of his medical load. No media knew, either here or in Kansas City where McRae worked 18 years with the Royals.

That tells you a lot.

"I feel great," he assured. "I think it's mandatory I work out every day. All my medications are preventive. I'm not sick, just trying to keep everything in control. It is vital that I don't allow it to drag me down."

He is the antithesis of a hypochondriac. McRae has stuff cranking inside a lean, athletic, middle-aged body, but you'd never know without a peek inside the manager's briefcase, seeing the needles and pill bottles. You quickly understand how the man deals with everyday ballpark stuff like hitting slumps and pitching miseries.

Nice role model, this Bradenton gent, homegrown native of Avon Park, dealing sans complaints or disruptions due to medical reasons. Bursting with grins and chuckles and zeal. Approaching professional and personal challenges with a most healthy outlook.

As the Rays have bounded on to Detroit, now heading for Baltimore, there is considerable fire back home. Franchise ownership is a rumble. Team for sale. Searching for a COO. A coup. New chief's biggest first jobs will be to smooth relationships with corporations, politicians and patrons. Attendance has slipped from sad to worse.

Asked about front-office doings, McRae smiled and did his best Sgt. Schultz imitation, saying, "I know nothing." His domain is the ballpark.

"Anything beyond is none of my business," he said. "I want us working really hard and keeping strong focus and winning as many baseball games as possible, which would make life easier for everybody involved."

In 18 seasons as a .290 career major-league hitter, McRae was learning about some disturbing family health propensities. Hints of high cholesterol and uric acid appeared in exams. "I've had concerns pretty much all my life," he said. "I deal with it the best I know how."

He has felt the pain. McRae's mother died at 60, a sister at 59. Affected by multiple problems from the aforementioned hereditary list. Hal's brother had a fatal stroke in his 50s.

His first sense of urgency came five years ago when Type 2 diabetes flared. McRae injects 30 units of insulin, usually 13 in the mornings when he works out, then 17 later in the day.

"If you've got to get it, this is the more manageable version, compared to what people must deal with when first affected as children," he said, buttoning his uniform before going to work. "I got it at age 50."

Since taking over as manager 12 days ago, McRae's pace has dramatically escalated, plunging into boss stuff with Rays athletes and coaches, communicating with general manager Chuck LaMar and executing media interviews.

"Other than my injections," he said of his diabetes, "there are no factors with my health. I really like being upbeat, appreciating the good things of life. Guarding against getting into ruts. Being in this job, that can be tough at times."

If he starts to drag, he thinks about family. An automatic booster. His is bountiful. Not enough of us noticed, but Jo McRae and her husband recently celebrated their 34th anniversary. She drives 40 minutes from their Manatee County home for almost every Rays game at the Trop.

"We've got a lot to be thankful for," Hal said, smiling again. Their son, Brian, played nine seasons of major-league baseball and at 33 is working as a baseball analyst for ESPN.

Daughter Leah, 23, is a psychology major at USF. She plans to do social work. Son Cullen, 28, is in baseball as a Florida Marlins video coordinator.

"We also raised a nephew, Keith," Hal said, "and take great pride that he is now an attorney for the state of Florida, living in Tallahassee."

It makes a guy smile.

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