By STEVE KRAH
Ron McClain was on the forefront of change in athletic training for baseball. The Indianapolis native worked with some of the best players of all-time in a career that went from 1973-2004. He plied his trade with the Indianapolis Indians, Cincinnati Reds and Montreal Expos. He was the National League trainer for the All-Star Game in 1982 (Montreal), 1989 (Anaheim) and 1997 (Cleveland).
A National Athletic Trainers Association member beginning with his college days, McClain helped found the Professional Baseball Athletic Trainers Society.
McClain’s accomplishments will be recognized Friday, Jan. 18 at the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame and awards dinner. It will be held during the IHSBCA State Clinic at Sheraton at the Crossing in Indianapolis. Contributor McClain will be inducted along with player Fred “Cy” Williams, coach Pat O’Neil, contributor Bob Schellinger and player Scott Rolen.
McClain grew up on the south side of Indianapolis near the Silver Hills Riding Stables and took an early appreciation of horses. He was also into sports of all kinds. He played varsity football and was a reserve for basketball and baseball at Warren Central High School, where he graduated in 1968.
Combining an interest in athletics and medicine, McClain studied physical education and training at Indiana University and graduated in 1975.
While he was still in college, he was driving a truck as a summer job in 1973 when he learned of the Indians’ need for a trainer and served a few months as a volunteer then turned to IU for the fall semester.
McClain impressed enough that he was invited to serve with the parent Reds in spring training and the Indians during the season in 1974 before again returning to IU in the fall.
From 1975-79, McClain trained for the Reds in spring training and Indians during the season then returned to Cincinnati each September to assist head trainer Larry Starr.
“That was quite a thrill,” says McClain. “It was the Big Red Machine era and I was a fan.”
Johnny Bench and Pete Rose were among his favorite players.
“I really came to admire Joe Morgan,” says McClain.
In his first season in Indianapolis, the team featured Ken Griffey Sr., George Foster and Dan Driessen. Ray Knight came along the next year.
McClain and the elder Griffey shared a birthday (April 10) and were fast friends.
“He was a real genuine guy,” says McClain. “He was just a good guy and a family man.”
Images of Ken Griffey Sr. instructing his tiny son — Ken Griffey Jr. — are still etched on McClain’s memory.
He also recalls Griffey Sr. and Foster taking him out for ice cream after games.
“It’s hard to find an ice cream shop open at 11 p.m.,” says McClain.
“The best person as a superstar I ever met was Tom Seaver,” says McClain.
Sparky Anderson was the manager for McClain’s first five years he was associated with Cincinnati. John McNamara was Reds skipper in 1979.
Starr and McClain brought strength training into baseball with the addition of Nautilus equipment in 1975.
Players who had gotten where they were within such training were hesitant at first.
McClain says the Reds did not stretch before games in 1974. They did some stretching during spring training then began throwing the baseball.
In 1976, the training staff added long distance running and modified sprints to the spring regimen.
“To a baseball player, long distance means two times around the field (about a half mile),” says McClain. “Everything is so slow to move in baseball. Managers are older ex-players. This is how I did it. Players wanted to conserve their energy.
“Conditioning was at a very low level. By August, a lot of these guys were wilting. They didn’t keep up their strength.”
With Indianapolis, McClain worked with managers Vern Rapp, Jim Snyder and Roy Majtyka.
Rapp after 1975 and joined the coaching staff at Montreal, where they were looking for a trainer with baseball knowledge and experience.
“They were having trouble finding one that wasn’t a hockey trainer,” says McClain. “They were not knowledgeable enough about shoulders and throwing arms in their opinion.
McClain received a referral from Indianapolis general manager Max Schumacher and Reds executive Sheldon “Chief” Bender that helped him land the head trainer position in Montreal and he held that job from 1980 until 2004.
“I aced the interview and got hired,” says McClain. “I spent the next 25 years in the big leagues, which was quite a thrill.”
Expos managers during his tenure were Dick Williams, Jim Fanning, Bill Virdon, Buck Rodgers, Tom Runnells, Felipe Alou, Jeff Torborg and Frank Robinson.
When McClain started in Montreal, the club had just a few pieces of strength equipment.
“I changed all that,” says McClain, who saw 20-by-30 strength training room go in. The Expos did stretches and used free weights as well as Nautilus and Cybex machines for strength training at a time when some teams only had stationary bikes
“Some were slow to get on the bandwagon,” says McClain. “It takes awhile for most teams to abide by good advice. You don’t know if it’s good advice for a few years.”
In June 1980, McClain gave Andre Dawson a simple device which helped his Hall of Fame career.
Dawson had injured his knees in football and had surgery while in high school. They took a beating in baseball, particularly on the hard artificial surface of Montreal’s Olympic Stadium.
“I was like running on padded cement,” says McClain.
Dawson’s knees really swelled on airplane flights.
“Cabins are pressurized at 10,000 feet,” says McClain. “He would have inflammation (a build up fluid) and it was hard to play the next day.”
McClain gave the outfielder a neoprene compression sleeve and that took care of the swelling and discomfort.
It was also 1980 that the Expos brought in Bill Sellers as a exercise science and nutritional expert.
“It all kind of goes hand-in-hand and now every team has to have a certified chef for the home team and the visiting team,” says McClain. “But it’s a tough thing to get a superior athlete to change their ways. They already think they are the best. They have to fail first.”
It was common for players to insist on being in the lineup even when injuries slowed them down.
“Guys like Dawson and Gary Carter, they will always tell you that they want to play,” says McClain. “They would aggravate things a lot. Especially with soft tissue injuries. They think they can play then the tear in further.”
The Expos had speedsters like Tim Raines, Indianapolis native Rodney Scott and Ron LeFlore.
“They would aggravate injuries and be out an extra week,” says McClain. “You almost have to prove to each guy individually what’s going to happen.
“As a young trainer they didn’t listen to me as much as they did later.”
Players weren’t the only ones to turn a deaf ear to the expert.
“Dick Williams didn’t listen to anybody,” says McClain. “Bill Virdon was a tough one to deal with.”
Later managers like Rodgers and Alou had a better understanding of the role of training in baseball.
McClain says it was the training staff that was dictating to the coaching staff the limits that should be placed on pitchers to keep them healthy.
Bill Sampen, who now lives in central Indiana and runs Samp’s Hack Shack training facilities in Brownsburg and Plainfield where McClain takes 11-year-old grandson Andrew for lessons, pitched for the Expos 1990-92 and was used mostly in long relief.
“You can overwork them pretty easily in that position,” says McClain, noting that attention should be paid to the number of pitches and consecutive days these pitchers throw. (Expos pitching coach) Galen Cisco welcomed stuff like that.
McClain also witnessed the strain put on pitchers’ elbows, wrists and shoulders in throwing the split-finger fastball.
“They snap the elbow really hard,” says McClain. “That’s why there were not throwing it that much now.”
McClain was in the ballpark when history was made July 18, 1999 as David Cone tossed a no-hitter for the Yankees against the visiting Expos on Yogi Berra Day.
“I remember how good he was with a bum shoulder,” says McClain.
It was also in New York that McClain was in the middle of a dust-up that got him suspended for the final seven games in 1997.
McClain, manager Alou and second baseman Mike Lansing were all tossed by plate umpire Larry Vanover after a disputed ninth-inning play at home plate. The Mets beat the Expos 1-0 at Shea Stadium on Sept. 14.
Montreal’s David Segui tried to score on a Darrin Fletcher double. After taking a throw from Rey Ordonez, New York catcher Todd Pratt resulted in an out call. But Expos, including McClain, saw the ball lying on the ground.
At the time, base umpires in the field could not advise the home plate umpire’s call, a rule that changed in 1998. McClain recalls that crew chief Harry Wendelstedt said to Alou within earshot of Vanover: “I can’t tell him if he won’t ask.”
“He still didn’t ask,” says McClain of Vanover. “That wasn’t right.”
Remembering something he saw in a movie, McClain used his finger and thumb to make the shape of an “L” on his forehead and said, “You are a loser and a cheat.”
“My idea was let’s get the call right no matter whose feelings get hurt,” says McClain, who had suspected that the umpires were in a hurry to catch their flight out of town.
McClain enjoyed his time away from the ballpark in Montreal.
“It’s an international city,” says McClain, who lived in a condo there during the season then came back to wife Pamela and daughter Ashley in central Indiana the off-season.
He learned enough French to be passable and also spoke some Spanish, which helped him communicate with Latin players.
McClain got to watch Vladimir Guerrero in the early part of his career.
“He was one great player,” says McClain of the former Expo. “He never did master English. All he wanted to do was to eat, sleep, play baseball and video games.”
McClain notes that Rusty Staub — aka “Le Grande Orange” — already knew French from growing up in New Orleans. Catcher Carter did his best with the language.
He also remembers something of a hometown advantage.
There were many games played in April and September where the temperature was below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 Celsius).
“It was always so cold in Montreal,” says McClain. “It hurt the other team. We were more used to it.”
McClain is a classic car enthusiast (he’s owned a 1961 Corvette “Fuelie” and 1934 Ford Victoria). He also enjoys shooting and has taken up golf since retirement. Ron and Pamela McClain reside in Franklin Township on the southeast side of Indianapolis.
The McClains of Indianapolis — Pamela and Ron — enjoy their travels. Ron McClain is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.
The McClains of Indianapolis — Pamela and Ron — see the Grand Canyon. Ron McClain is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.
Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019.
Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis visits the Grand Canyon. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. He also trained for the Indianapolis Indians.
Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. He also trained for the Cincinnati Reds.
Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. He is an Indiana University graduate.
Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain of Indianapolis enjoys Alaska. McClain, who was with the Expos for 25 years, is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. He is a Warren Central High School graduate.
Two former Montreal Expos — catcher Darrin Fletcher and athletic trainer Ron McClain — meet up. Fletcher played 14 seasons in the big leagues with the Los Angels Dodgers, Philadelphia Phillies, Expos and Toronto Blue Jays. McClain was with the Expos for 25 years.
Former Montreal Expos athletic trainer Ron McClain (center) shares a moment with Amy and Bill Sampen at Samp’s Hack Shack in Plainfield, Ind. Indianapolis resident McClain is going into the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in January 2019. Bill Sampen pitched for the Expos 1990-92.