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CROWE'S NEST

McCray is still famous, years after his big break

December 10, 2007|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

More than 16 years later, Rodney McCray still is not tired of talking about the night he literally ran through a wall for his team.

It's his claim to fame.

"It's going to be something I'm going to talk about for the rest of my life," McCray says from his home in Sarasota, Fla. "It's like the skier on 'Wide World of Sports,' the agony-of-defeat clip. It's one of those moments people will never forget."

Even if they wanted to, countless replays wouldn't let them.

You probably don't know McCray, 44, but you've probably seen his famous video clip. A former Los Angeles University High and West L.A. College outfielder whose major league career consisted of only 14 at-bats, McCray was playing for the triple-A Vancouver Canadians against the Portland Beavers in a Pacific Coast League game at Portland, Ore., on the night he crashed into the limelight, May 27, 1991.

In the seventh inning at Civic Stadium, Chip Hale of the Beavers lifted a fly ball toward the right-center-field wall and McCray, in hot pursuit from his position in right field, ran right through the plywood fence trying to chase it down.

"Being an Astroturf field," the former outfielder recalls, "the warning track is made of rubber, so you can't really tell the difference [from the outfield turf]. So, the next thing you know, boom! I hit the wall, then I went through the wall.

"My next thought was, 'Wow, I just ran through a wall.' "

Says Hale, now the third base coach for the Arizona Diamondbacks, "Obviously you're not supposed to, but as I'm running I'm watching it and I see him going after it and I'm thinking, 'You've got to stop, you've got to stop,' but the son of a gun didn't stop. The ball hit his glove almost at the same time that his face hit the fence and the ball catapulted all the way back into the infield.

"I'm thinking, 'Is he alive?' Are you supposed to stop running? There was a lot of concern, I think, on everybody's part. It was very scary for all of us."

Hale kept running until he reached third base with a triple.

But McCray, who was unhurt, nevertheless became an instant celebrity thanks to the play being shown repeatedly on newscasts across the country.

"I woke up the next morning," says McCray, a father of three, "and my phone was ringing off the hook. Everybody was calling me: reporters, TV shows, 'Good Morning America,' all the morning news shows. Then, later that night after we got rained out, I'm watching the Lakers playing Portland in a playoff game and at halftime they showed the clip of me going through the wall. I'm like, 'Whoa.'

"My roommate looked at me and said, 'Hot' -- my nickname was Hot Rod -- 'this is big.' From there on, it was huge. Ever since, it's never really died down."

A clip of the play has been used in commercials -- "It's been a little bit profitable," McCray says -- and ESPN ranked it among the top 10 sports bloopers of all-time. Fox's "Best Damn Sports Show Period," in a ranking of the top 50 "most devastating hits" in sports history, listed McCray's fence-busting play at No. 1.

Last year, to celebrate the 15th anniversary of the play, the Beavers hosted a night in McCray's honor, naming the area where he broke through the wall "McCray Alley" and handing out one-of-a-kind bobbleheads depicting the crash.

"It's one of the best bobbleheads out there," McCray says.

McCray -- new nickname: Crash -- even made it to Cooperstown, or at least a clip of his famous play did. It's part of a blooper reel looped at the Hall of Fame.

What the play couldn't do was boost McCray's career.

"After I ran into the wall," says the former first-round draft pick, who was part of the Chicago White Sox organization at the time, "I thought I'd get a call back up to the majors for PR work, or whatever, but I didn't."

Less than a year later, after signing with the New York Mets, McCray made the last plate appearance of his major league career on May 8, 1992, delivering a game-winning single against the Dodgers at Shea Stadium.

A month later, the Mets released him. In 67 major league games, he'd managed three hits in 14 at-bats. He stole nine bases in 10 attempts.

"I could play with the best of them as far as defensively and stealing bases," McCray says. "I just couldn't hit enough."

In 1994, McCray launched a coaching career that seemed to stall out a few years ago. But after working for the last year as a hotel concierge, McCray recently was hired by the Dodgers as a roving outfield and baserunning coordinator.

"I enjoy baseball," he says, "and I enjoy teaching."

He also enjoys spending time in the kitchen and has put together a concept for a television cooking show, "Crash-Course Cooking With the Pros."

Says McCray, "As a bachelor, I had to cook my own meals and being a ballplayer and living all over, you learn a lot of different cultures. I've had roommates from the South, the North, the Dominican, Puerto Rico. You learn different ethnicities, different foods."

And you learn that, on TV, one play can define you.

"That play dictates what kind of ballplayer I was," McCray says of his breakthrough moment. "I was a hard-nosed player. I went after it."

--

jerome.crowe@latimes.com

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