On this day in 1953, George Howard Brett was born in Glen Dale, West Virginia.
George Brett was my favorite player growing up and still holds that distinction today. Had I been born ten years earlier, I’d have gotten to see him playing in his prime, but the chance to follow him game-by-game is enough. If you’re on this blog, I don’t have to give you the scouting report – Brett’s was among the best pure hitters to ever play the game. He’ll always be compared to third base contemporary Mike Schmidt who won three MVP awards and 10 Gold Gloves and that’s fine, but I’ll take #5 every time.
One of my favorite memories came in 1992 on September 30 when Brett collected his 3000th hit against the California Angels. Four hits shy of the milestone, all Brett did was go 4-5, ripping a bullet past Ken Oberkfell at second base for a single for the historic hit.
In a rare lapse of focus from one of the best competitors in the game, Brett was picked off first.
I was in sixth grade that season and stayed up to listen to the game on the radio. After Brett’s second hit off Julio Valera of the Angels, I grabbed a cassette tape to capture the remainder of the game just in case this would be the night.
I find my baseball fandom tied to Brett in many ways. I was born in 1980, right in the middle of Brett’s quest for .400. I first learned the basics of baseball in 1985 during the World Series and after what I’d consider Brett’s most complete season performance (.335/.436/.585 30 homers, 112 RBI, 38 doubles and a 103/49 K/BB ratio. He also won the only Gold Glove of his career at third base). Were it not for a ridiculous 145 RBI season from Don Mattingly, Brett would have had his second MVP award. I still think he should have won it. In 1990, when Brett was winning his third batting title, I was busy putting blue marker to white t-shirt to create my Halloween costume, and I’ll give you a hint, there was a big blue number 5 on the back of the shirt once I was done.
I’d read a quote once that Brett wanted his last at bat to be a groundout to second base, emphasizing that he’d run all the way through the base while making the out. That’s the kind of player he was – diving into dugouts to make a catch, going ballistic when a homerun got called back (you know the Pine Tar Game, of course, right?), and spraying the ball all over the place. Brett’s last at bat came on October 3, 1993 – a solid single up the middle into center field.
I’ll never be fully convinced that there’s no such thing as a “clutch” performer because Brett was clutch. Think of his three-run homer to put the Royals up 4-2 in 1980 against the Yankees in the ALCS, finally carrying KC to the World Series after three failed attempts from 1976-1978. Or his .370 average in 1985 as the Royals beat the Cardinals for their only championship. In 43 postseason games, Brett compiled a 1.023 OPS.
Yeah, that’s clutch.
I recall the press conference where Brett announced he was retiring after the 1993 season. I locked myself in my bedroom for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, I grew up too far from Kansas City, so trips to Royals Stadium were rare, and Brett was injured or given a day off on those nights when my family made the trek to see the Royals so I never got to see Brett play on the field. As I said before, had I been born ten years earlier …
|162 Game Avg.||162||696||95||189||40||8||19||95||12||66||54||.305||.369||.487||.857|