Hal McRae, admitting he is interested in managing but not obsessed by it, said yesterday he turned down the Kansas City Royals' job because it was offered for only 36 games.

He rejected a chance to become major league baseball's fourth black manager and the first for the Royals, who hired coach John Wathan instead Thursday. Yesterday, McRae wasn't second-guessing himself.

"I felt I needed more of an opportunity than 36 games to prove myself," he said from Chicago, where the Royals played last night. "I didn't think it was an adequate amount of time. If I'm to manage, I didn't want to just rush in and take a job.

"It's a tough job, especially today. You've got to make a big personal commitment if you're going to manage, and the ballclub you work for has to make the same commitment."

Wathan, who is white, agreed to serve for the 36 games. Then the Royals will decide on a manager for 1988. Royals General Manager John Schuerholz defended his decision not to offer a multiyear contract, but left little doubt that, if McRae had taken the job for 36 games, he'd have been retained for 1988.

"With so little time, we didn't feel it would be fair to commit the organization past this season," he said. "We decided that the two people we wanted to give a chance to were Hal and John Wathan."

Schuerholz said that, although he can't guarantee Wathan a job for 1988, "the odds are long that it'll be his. The same would have been true had Hal taken it."

Although there was speculation the Royals would have been interested in Lou Piniella if he had been fired by the New York Yankees, the Royals traditionally have hired managers from a group of career organization men. That was one reason Billy Gardner, who was fired Thursday, was selected over interim manager Mike Ferraro last winter.

(At the time, Gardner was named third-base coach for the late Dick Howser, but the Royals suspected Howser, suffering from a brain tumor, wouldn't be able to continue. When he retired in the first week of spring training, Gardner got the job. Howser died June 17.)

McRae, 42, said he was prepared to live with his decision, adding that, although he would have taken the job under the right circumstances, he hopes to be working as an minor league instructor somewhere near his Bradenton, Fla., home next year. Asked about managing two months ago, he had said, "Not unless Bradenton gets a franchise."

"First of all, I didn't have long to make a decision," he said. "It was offered Wednesday night and an announcement made Thursday. I talked to the general manager after the game Wednesday. I was excited at first. He said, 'You can have the job now. You can manage tomorrow night if you'd like.' But he said it would be mine for only 36 games, and then the situation would be evaluated. I didn't even consider it. I just said, 'No way.'

"If I'm going to do it, I'm going to do it right, which means giving it a legitimate chance. If I'm never given another opportunity, I won't feel I missed the boat. Managing has never been a dream of mine, but it is something I feel I can do."

One of the game's most respected players, he ended a 17-year major league career when he was named a Royals coach this year. He played the last 15 seasons for the Royals, and may be best known as the game's first full-time designated hitter.

"My main concern is to work near my home, and try to be a 9-to-5 coach," he said. "I don't want to be away from home seven months a year anymore. I had one kid grow up without me being home, and I don't want that to happen with the other two. I want to stay involved, but I'd like it to be near Bradenton."

His son Bryan was the Royals' No. 1 pick two years ago and just finished a season at Class A Fort Myers.

The elder McRae said reaction to his decision had been mixed.

"Some players said I did the right thing," he said. "Some said they wish I'd taken it. I appreciated that, but it was my decision. They've got a good man in John Wathan."

He said it wouldn't be awkward working with Wathan the rest of the year. "No, John and I played together. Basically, I'm the hitting coach. My work stops before the game starts. I might pat a few backs during the game, but nothing more than that."