The following is a guest post from Chris Kamler, who attended this event which was hosted by the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society.
Everyone in Kansas City has heard stories of the two George Bretts. The first, a larger than life hero of the Midwest. The 1985 World Series Champion and leader of a Royals team across three decades. The other, a gruff recluse refusing to sign autographs for those in wheelchairs spouting stories about Las Vegas restrooms and bad crab salad.
On a cold night in January, I was not sure which George Brett I’d come to see, only that I needed to go see it. What we got was an intimate, humble Brett. One whose perfect day includes playing a round of golf, catching a Royals game and BBQing. A Brett who still looks up to his brothers and who says his late brother Ken beat him in home run hitting contests throughout his active playing days. It was a George Brett I hadn’t heard speak before. One who praised the future of the current Royals and one who wasn’t shy about talking about the past.
What a couple of hundred members of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society witnessed Thursday night, was a very personal look behind the curtain of Hall of Famer George Brett and a look at the man who happens to be the greatest Kansas City athlete that we will ever see.
Brett was a guest of the monthly meeting of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society, an organization devoted to keeping the history of baseball alive. Previous guests of their monthly meetings have included Bill James, George Toma and Kevin Seitzer. But Society President Jeff Logan has had his sight on Brett for a while now and once he got ahold of Brett’s e-mail address, the weekly e-mails began to flow asking for Brett to do an event. “I finally said yes just so Jeff would stop bugging me!” Brett told the crowd assembled in the Diamond Club at Kauffman Stadium against a backdrop of the sun setting beyond the third base Brett patrolled for 21 years.
Brett told stories that spanned his playing days, his days growing up in El Segundo, California and what life is like as a Hall of Famer.
Here’s a few snippets of stories from George’s 90 minute sit down with KCBHS’s David Starbuck:
On Dick Howser: “Dick lost his first 8 playoff games he ever managed.” [Howser was 0-8 after being swept by the Royals (as manager of the Yankees) in the 1980 playoffs and Tigers in the ALCS in 1984 as manager of the Royals. Then, losing the first two games of the 1985 ALCS to Toronto.] “I caught the final out from Lloyd Mosby, great player, for Toronto. He hit a high popup to me and I actually caught it. Which made me feel good. And I’m running off the field and I see Howser who goes to stick his hand out to shake it and I took the ball out of my glove and I said ‘here, you deserve this ball more than I do, because you’d never won a playoff game.’ So I gave him the ball after that game.”
On 1985 ALCS Game 3: When asked about his performance in that Game 3 of the 1985 ALCS, a coy Brett said, “Well I don’t remember quite anything about that game, but I hit a home run my first at bat, a single off the top of the wall in my second at bat, a three-run homer in the third at bat and I singled and scored the winning run in the 8th inning.” And without missing a beat he said “But I really don’t recall too much else.” When a fan also reminded Brett that he made a critical defensive play in that game to throw Damaso Garcia out at home plate in the fourth inning, Brett also said “Best play I’ve ever made in my life.”
On his brother Ken: “He was always a fun loving guy. Played for 10 different teams. He was totally out of baseball and came here in 1980. In his first game in Kansas City, they opened up the bullpen door and he comes running in like an airplane. He really loved to play the game. He competed as well as anybody, but he had fun competing.”
On his most memorable home runs: “The one in 80 [off of Goose Gossage in Game 3 of the ALCS] because I knew if we lost that game we were going to blow it. We had lost in ‘76, ‘77 and ‘78. But for me as a 23-year-old kid playing in that series in ‘76 [In the deciding Game 5], to come up down three runs to tie it in Yankees Stadium kind of set the tone for what I was going to be able to do the rest of my career. We’re down 6-3 in the last game. I remember Charlie Lau telling me this guy, Grant Jackson, has a hard time keeping the ball away from left handers. I want you to move up about 2 inches on the plate and just hit it. And sure enough, he threw a ball right down the middle. And if I was 2 inches off the plate, the ball would’ve flown to center field where it’s 440’. But I hit it right down the line and as a result, it was a home run.”
On Rickey Henderson: “I hated that guy, but we are now very cordial. I don’t send him Christmas Cards, he don’t send me Christmas Cards, but we get along.” Brett then relayed a story about the final days of the 1990 Batting Title race where Henderson had ducked four pitchers down the stretch of the season and then called Brett a “weenie” in his book for only playing half of the final game of the season. “He called me a ‘weenie!’”
On Morganna, the Kissing Bandit: “Somebody showed me that picture the other day. That was strange. But not as strange as when I retaliated later that night down in the River Quay.”
On Pranks: “I remember one really hot day here and John Shulock was umpiring second base and he was asking the ball boy to bring him out some water. And I went up to Dick Howser’s office where the hard liquor was kept and I got a bottle of vodka. I said ‘give this one to John Shulock.’ And I’m watching and he takes a big old gulp. It’s 130 [degrees] on the turf, Sunday afternoon game and he just starts downing it and then he starts choking and spitting it out. And the reason I did it to him because I ran into him at Strouds the night before and we both left about 3:00 in the morning. Thought it’d be good for him.”
But the highlight for me was easily the final comments by Brett when he went on a five minute soliloquy about the state of the 2013 Royals and how all cosmic signs are pointing to this year being a special one.
On The Wil Myers Trade: “You gotta remember, Wil Myers is only 22 years old and struck out 155 times last year. He’s gonna struggle.It’s gonna take him a few years.”
On Eric Hosmer: “Hosmer had the worst season he’s ever going to have last year. He has nightmares every night. I talked to him 2 weeks ago. He bought a home in Miami, and he put a batting cage in the back, and his living room is a gym. All he does is hit and workout.”
On The Royals: “They had to do something to keep those guys around. Because if you continue to lose 90 games a year, you know what’s going to happen. They’re leaving. We have to try to keep the Hosmer’s, the Moustakas’s and the Perez’s around. The only way to do that is get competitive. And that’s what Dayton did. And he did it with prospects. They’re still prospects. I applaud him for the bold move. The people in Tampa are so pissed. They’re gettin’ three guys they’ve never heard of. But they gave away a ton to the Kansas City Royals.”
I didn’t know which George Brett I would come to see at the January meeting of the Kansas City Baseball Historical Society, but this George Brett made me leave inspired about the future of this Royals team and extremely nostalgic about the Royals of the past.
Kamler is the host of The Ballgame on ESPN 1510 AM as well as a columnist for the Platte County Landmark and also writes on Rambling Morons and for the EKOH Network. You can follow him on Twitter at @TheFakeNed.