In 2008, I had the opportunity to interview Vancouver, B.C., native Dave McKay. He was the only Canadian in the Toronto Blue Jays lineup in their first game on that snowy day on April 7, 1977. McKay would later play for the Oakland A’s and has now served on Tony LaRussa’s coaching staff for close to 25 years.
Here is one of the articles I wrote after the interview:
Dave McKay: Baseball’s hardest worker
By Kevin Glew
He might be baseball’s most unlikely “lifer.”
Raised in a hockey-mad country without playing organized baseball until he was 11, Dave McKay’s road to big leagues was anything but typical.
“People ask me why I didn’t play high school baseball? Well, my high school didn’t have a baseball team,” said McKay, who was born in Vancouver and attended Sir Charles Tupper High School.
Now in his fourth decade in Major League baseball, the 2001 Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame inductee and St. Louis Cardinals first-base coach says he only suited up for about a dozen games a year while growing up in B.C.
Small and thin as a teen, McKay was a talented shortstop, but few scouts visiting his region in the mid-to-late ’60s were coveting infielders. Fortunately, McKay’s older brother, Alex, recognized his potential and pushed him to succeed.
“Alex was really helpful and kept me focussed. And it’s got to the point where my work ethic is probably what has kept me around for so long as a coach. I just became the guy that worked harder than everyone else,” said McKay.
Now 58 years old, the Canuck coach is in better shape than most players. He’s upbeat, energetic and modest, and his hard work has earned him considerable respect in the baseball fraternity.
Hard work also earned McKay a scholarship to Columbia Basin Junior College in Pasco, Wash., in 1969, where he starred for their baseball team for two years, before he was awarded another scholarship to Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska.
Being a Canadian, McKay was not eligible for the major league draft at that time. So after a year at Creighton, he decided to play summer ball in Wichita, Kansas. On June 20, 1971, he inked a deal with the Minnesota Twins that included a $10,000 signing bonus.
McKay was called up by the big club in August 1975. Before McKay left the Twins minor league team in Tacoma, player-coach Rick Renick, who had belted a home run in his first big league at bat, jokingly told the young Canuck that he expected him to do the same. So fittingly on August 22, 1975, McKay knocked the second pitch – a slider from Tigers hurler, Vern Ruhle – out of the park in his first at bat.
That home run ball now resides at the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame and McKay remains the only Canuck to homer in their first big league at bat.
McKay would spend another partial season with the Twins, before being selected by the Toronto Blue Jays in the 1976 expansion draft. Excited to be back in his home country, McKay was the only Canadian in the Jays’ starting lineup in their first game on April 7, 1977.
“It was a really, really cold day. It was probably the coldest day I’ve ever played on. We had snow the night before and that morning they had to take the snow off the field,” he recalled.
The Jays, of course, defeated the Chicago White Sox 9-5 in that inaugural contest and McKay recorded the game-winning RBI.
After two more seasons in Toronto, he signed with the Oakland A’s in 1980, where he played for Billy Martin. Oakland finished with the best record in the American League in the strike-shortened, 1981 campaign under the volatile manager. In the postseason that year, McKay would homer in the final game of the American League Division Series to help the A’s defeat the Kansas City Royals.
After another season in Oakland, McKay spent the 1983 campaign as a player-coach in the A’s minor league system. He was hired as a coach by the big league club in 1984.
When Tony La Russa was named the A’s manager during the 1986 campaign, McKay retained his position with the club. He has now worked on La Russa’s staff for 23 years – and moved with the renowned skipper to St. Louis in 1996. Working under La Russa, McKay has been a part of two World Series-winning teams.
“Obviously the World Series we won in Oakland in 1989 was the first time, and that was really exciting. We kind of redeemed ourselves for the year before when we got beat by the Dodgers,” he said.
But the 2006 championship with the Cards was equally sweet.
“We had five rookies on that team and we had five released players, including Scott Spiezio, Preston Wilson, Jeff Weaver, Josh Hancock, Jorge Sosa and Jose Vizcaino,” he said. “So to walk into that locker room and see all of these guys soaked in champagne, wrapped around a World Championship trophy, when just less than a month or so ago some of them had their hearts ripped out of their chests telling them they were released, was special.”
A personal highlight for McKay was his induction into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame in 2001. With his brother, Alex, and wife, Lene, in the audience, McKay delivered a heartfelt and emotional speech.
One question McKay is often asked is, if he has aspirations to be the first full-time Canadian major league manager since George Gibson (who piloted the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1934)?
“I really enjoy coaching. I really enjoy being on the field and working with the guys and I think that’s what I was destined to be,” he said.