WHILE major-league baseball was closing down its strike-marred 1994 season last week, the Kansas City Royals were quietly ushering Hal McRae, the team's manager of two seasons, out the door.
One may question whether this firing was timed primarily to avoid public attention and controversy. Surely, it would have been harder to carry out at the beginning of the Aug. 12 players' strike, with the Royals not far removed from a 14-game winning streak that had put them into contention in the American League Central division. Overall, McRae, a former player and coach with the Royals, led the team to a 286-277 record.
General manager Herk Robinson said that McRae had done a good job, but that the club felt it could find a manager ``who can better lead us into the next several years with the younger players.''
The Royals did not name a replacement. Prominent ex-Royal George Brett said he was not interested. Brett, now a club vice president, played alongside McRae for many years, including during the late 1970s under Whitey Herzog, who reportedly will meet with the Royals this week about returning as manager. Herzog resigned in January as general manager of the California Angels.
At least publicly, McRae took the news of his ouster graciously. ``I appreciate the opportunity I was given, and that's the way I will always feel,'' he said.
That sort of class should help him find new employment. And maybe it's better that McRae not have to manage his son Brian, the Royals' centerfielder, since that can be tricky task for any father.
Righting wrongs in factual fumbles
IN last week's ``Sports Notebook,'' a report on Ohio college football botched several facts.
To set the record straight, Miami of Ohio is in Oxford, and the school answers to Miami University, unlike the Florida power that goes by University of Miami. Mark Jones, a visiting geography instructor at the Ohio school, informs us that a slogan on a T-shirt popular with students on the Oxford campus says it all: ``Miami Was a University  Before Florida Was a State .'' Dexter Boniface, who also writes from Oxford, explains that the school got its name from the native American tribes that once lived in southwestern Ohio. ``I hope,'' he adds ``that international readers will someday learn of Miami's reputation as a cradle of scholarship rather than merely as a cradle of coaches.''
One other point: Ohio State is not the only school that bears the state's name in big-time football circles. So, too, does Ohio University in Athens.
Touching other bases
* The Metropolitan King County Council in Seattle has approved $34 million in repairs to the Kingdome, where ceiling tiles began falling into empty seats this summer. That's quite a repair bill, especially given that the first domed stadium, the Astrodome in Houston, was built for $20.5 million in 1965.
* Did you know that in Super Bowl VII the 1972 Miami Dolphins came within a blocked field goal attempt of scoring a 17-0 victory to cap a 17-0 campaign?
In retrospect, the try was one of the most comical in championship-game history, since it led to Miami placekicker Garo Yepremian's ill-advised effort to throw the ball during the ensuing confusion. Washington's Mike Bass plucked the wobbly pass out of the air and returned it 49 yards for the Redskins' only points in a 14-7 defeat.
* Sweet Spot, a publication for serious collectors of sports memorabilia, reports that stadium seats are a popular item, especially ones from the original Yankee Stadium or Brooklyn's Ebbets Field, former home of the Dodgers. A Yankee Stadium seat sold for $2,300 not long ago, quite a hike from the $7.50 plus five cartons one cigarette company was asking for each of 10,000 seats in 1974. Resellers who can store a large inventory bring the seats onto the market slowly in order to keep the price up, Sweet Spot reports.
* The way things are going, artificial turf fields will likely be a rarity in major college football by the year 2000. Seems like just about everybody is either pulling up their ``rug'' or thinking of doing so. The advent of better drainage for grass fields is one factor in this trend, as is a concern about injuries on artificial turf.