The Kansas City Royals fired Manager Billy Gardner yesterday and replaced him with long-time Royals player John Wathan.

The late Dick Howser brought Gardner to the Royals as a coach last October. Howser said last January that Gardner would succeed him, if need be. Under Gardner, after Howser died, the team was 62-64.

Wathan, who was in his first year as manager of the Royals Class AAA team at Omaha, was given the job after it was turned down by Hal McRae, the team's batting instructor and former designated hitter, said General Manager John Schuerholz.

McRae has said previously that he wants to spend more time with his family. He said yesterday he wasn't sure if he could commit himself to managing.

"I know it's a tough job and you have to make a strong commitment to it," said McRae, who retired this year after 17 years as a player. "To me, the most important people are the players. I wanted to create an environment where the players could work and get their jobs done without worrying about wins and losses."

The offer to McRae, who is black, followed owner Ewing Kauffman's announcement in the spring that the Royals would develop a plan to move minorities into management positions with the club.

Wathan, who is white, has been in the Royals organization for 17 years as a player, coach and manager. He was a catcher, first baseman and outfielder in 10 big league seasons.

Last night, George Brett's homer with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning gave the Royals a 3-2 victory over the visiting Texas Rangers in Wathan's debut.