George Brett on sports Illustrated cover
- 3B, SS, DH, 1B, LF, OF, RF
- May 15, 1953
- 185 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 8-02-1973 with KCA
- Allstar Selections:
- 1980 HA, 1980 ML, 1980 MVP, 1980 SS, 1985 ALCS, 1985 GG, 1985 SS, 1986 LG, 1988 SS
- Hall of Fame:
The only man ever to win a batting title in three different decades, George Brett was among baseball's elite hitters for virtually his entire career. In fact, a strong argument could be made that Brett was the greatest hitting third baseman of all time. He didn't have as much power as either Mike Schmidt or Eddie Mathews, and he didn't hit for quite as high a batting average as Wade Boggs. Nevertheless, Brett combined hitting for both power and average better than any other third sacker in baseball history. He hit 317 home runs during his career, accumulated 137 triples, and knocked in 1,595 runs – tying him with Schmidt for the most runs batted in by a third baseman. Brett also compiled a .305 career batting average, and his 665 doubles, 3,154 hits, and 1,583 runs scored are all records for third basemen. Brett's .390 batting average in 1980 still stands as the highest mark posted over the course of an entire season by any player since Ted Williams hit .406 for the Red Sox in 1941 (Tony Gwynn batted .394 for San Diego during the strike-shortened 1994 campaign). And Brett was a tremendous clutch performer throughout his career, compiling a lifetime .337 batting average in postseason play, with 10 home runs and 23 RBIs in 166 at-bats.
Born in Glen Dale, West Virginia on May 15, 1953, George Howard Brett was part of a big baseball family that also included older brothers Ken, John, and Bobby. Ken spent 13 years in the major leagues pitching for several different teams, while John and Bobby both played briefly in the minor leagues. The Brett family moved to the Midwest when George was still a young boy, but they eventually settled in the Los Angeles suburb of El Segundo. After graduating from El Segundo High School in 1971, George was selected by the Kansas City Royals in the second round of that year's amateur free-agent draft with the 29th overall pick.
Brett began his professional career at shortstop, but he had difficulty fielding balls hit to his right, prompting a shift to third base shortly thereafter. He spent the better part of three years in the minors before finally being called up by Kansas City in August of 1973. The 20-year-old third baseman experienced little in the way of success in his 40 plate appearances, compiling a batting average of only .125.
Brett continued to struggle at the plate during the early stages of the 1974 campaign after winning the starting third base job in spring training. However, he worked feverishly with Kansas City hitting instructor Charlie Lau during the All-Star break to correct some errors in his swing that opposing pitchers had been exploiting. Lau taught the lefthanded-hitting Brett to be more selective at the plate, to wait longer on the pitcher's offering, and to hit the ball to all fields, on all types of pitches. Heeding his instructor's advice, Brett finished the season with a very respectable .282 batting average, although he hit only two home runs and knocked in just 47 runs.
Brett's development as a hitter continued the following year, when he batted .308 and increased his offensive production by hitting 11 home runs and driving in 89 runs. The third baseman also led the American League with 13 triples and 195 hits. It was in 1976, though, that Brett became a star. He led the Royals to the A.L. West title for the first of three consecutive times by capturing the batting title with a mark of .333. Brett also scored 94 runs, stole 21 bases, and led the league with 14 triples and 215 hits, en route to earning the first of 13 straight All-Star Game nominations and finishing second in the league MVP balloting. Although Kansas City lost to New York in the ALCS for the first of three consecutive times, Brett gave an early indication as to the type of clutch performer he would end up being throughout his career, batting .444 and tying up Game Five with a three-run homer in the top of the eighth inning. However, the Yankees eventually prevailed, winning the pennant on Chris Chambliss' leadoff homer in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Brett performed extremely well for the Royals in each of the next two seasons, helping them advance to the playoffs each year. He batted .312 in 1977, scored 105 runs, and increased his power numbers to 22 home runs and 88 runs batted in. Injuries limited the Kansas City third baseman to 128 games the following year, but he still managed to hit .294, steal a career-high 23 bases, and lead the league with 45 doubles.
Although the Royals failed to advance to the postseason in 1979, Brett had one of his finest seasons. In addition to batting .329, hitting 23 home runs, driving in 107 runs, scoring 119 others, and compiling 42 doubles, he led the league with 20 triples and 212 hits. By surpassing 20 homers, 20 triples, and 20 doubles, he became only the sixth player in major league history to top the 20-mark in each category in the same season. Brett finished third in the league MVP voting.
The Pine Tar Game
The 1980 season was a magical one for Brett. Although various physical ailments forced him to sit out 45 of his team's games, Brett flirted with the .400-mark for much of the season, at one point compiling a 30-game hitting streak. He finished the year with a .390 batting average, and he also established new career highs with 24 home runs and 118 runs batted in, while leading the league with a .454 on-base percentage and a .664 slugging percentage. The Royals captured their fourth A.L. West title in five years, and Brett was named league MVP in overwhelming fashion. The Royals then faced the Yankees again in the ALCS, but they came out on top this time, sweeping their old nemesis in three straight games. Brett delivered the decisive blow, hitting a three-run upper-deck homer off Yankee relief ace Goose Gossage in the top of the seventh inning of Game Three to provide the margin of victory. The Kansas City third baseman revealed the "team-first" mentality he carried with him throughout his career when he stated after the contest, "I know I captured a lot of the media's attention this past season, but the Royals have a team built on teamwork, not on individuals." Kansas City subsequently lost the World Series to the Phillies in six games, but Brett could hardly be faulted. He batted .375 during the Fall Classic, with one home run and three runs batted in.
Numerous injuries caused Brett to miss significant playing time in three of the next four seasons. Still, he remained one of the American League's best hitters whenever he was in the lineup, batting over .300 three times, topping 20 homers twice, and leading the league with a .563 slugging percentage in 1983. The Royals advanced to the postseason twice during that period, but they were quickly eliminated in three games each time, leaving the extremely competitive Brett to wonder if he was ever going to win the world championship he so desperately craved. Longtime teammate Jamie Quirk spoke of Brett's competitive drive when he said, "If you've ever played golf with him, you'd know he's so competitive that he can't stand to lose. He can't sit down and play a card game that he doesn't want to beat you. That's the way he played baseball. If he had to, he'd take it in his own hands and win the ballgame."
Brett's dream of winning a championship was finally fulfilled in 1985, a season that was among the very best of his career. In addition to hitting a career high 30 home runs,
Brett knocked in 112 runs, scored 108 others, batted .335, and led the league with a .585 slugging percentage. He finished the regular season in style, hitting five home runs and driving in nine runs in Kansas City's final six games, to enable his team to sneak into the playoffs. The third baseman also improved his defense, which was somewhat suspect earlier in his career. By committing only 15 errors in the field (easily his lowest total in any full season at third base), Brett earned his only Gold Glove Award. Brett's exceptional all-around performance led the Royals to the division title even though they lacked another big bat in their lineup. He finished second to New York's Don Mattingly in the league MVP voting. Brett then led his team past the favored Toronto Blue Jays in the ALCS by batting .348, hitting three home runs, and driving in five runs, despite receiving a total of seven walks from Toronto pitching. The Royals then overcame a three-games-to-one deficit against St. Louis in the World Series to capture their only world championship. Brett batted .370 during the Series.
Brett's extraordinary performance during the 1985 postseason was really nothing unusual for him. Perhaps the greatest clutch hitter of his generation, Brett established LCS records with nine home runs and a .728 slugging average over the course of his career. Those are the numbers that prompted longtime teammate John Wathan to say, "When the game was on the line, we all wanted George at the plate."
Second baseman Frank White, who spent his entire career playing with Brett, stated, "Any time you can play with a Hall of Famer, then it is something special to remember. I've seen great players make great plays many times. But he was the greatest clutch hitter I've played with or against."
Sparky Anderson managed Cincinnati to four National League pennants and two world championships before piloting the Detroit Tigers to the A.L. flag and World Series title in 1984. Speaking of Brett, the Hall of Fame manager noted, "I've always loved the way he played the game of baseball, and I also thought he was the most dangerous hitter I ever faced – certainly in the American League. Back with Cincinnati, I used to walk the Giants' Willie McCovey all the time because he could just kill you. I thought I'd never treat another hitter that way, but I wound up doing it with George."
The 1985 World Series turned out to be Brett's last postseason appearance. The Royals failed to advance to the playoffs in any of his eight remaining years with the team, as Brett continued to battle numerous injuries. He eventually moved across the diamond to play first base in 1988, and serving in that capacity seemed to help Brett, who hit 24 homers, knocked in 103 runs, and batted .306. Brett had his last big year in 1990, winning his third batting title with a mark of .329 and leading the league with 45 doubles.
Brett spent most of the next three seasons as Kansas City's designated hitter, reaching the 3,000 hit plateau late in the 1992 campaign. He retired at the conclusion of the following year as Kansas City's all-time leader in every major statistical category except stolen bases.
Over the course of his career, Brett batted over .300 on 11 separate occasions, hit more than 20 homers eight times, surpassed 100 runs batted in and 100 runs scored four times each, topped 200 hits twice, and accumulated as many as 40 doubles five times. In addition to leading the league in batting average three times, Brett topped the circuit in hits, triples, and slugging percentage three times each, in doubles twice, and in on-base percentage once. He finished in the top three of the league MVP balloting four times during his career.
Perhaps Bob Costas summed up George Brett best when he said, "He (Brett) was
clearly one of the best players of his generation, but he had a style that spanned the generations. He looked and carried himself like a baseball player and could have been at home in any era. He was the kind of guy who conveyed something to fans that's very important, which was that he thought of himself first and foremost as a baseball player. There was nothing in the world that he would rather be doing than playing baseball every day when he was on the field."
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