If longtime Chicago first baseman Ernie Banks is “Mr. Cub,” then George Brett is “Mr. Royal,” and because the 83rd Major League Baseball All-Star Game was played this past Tuesday in Kansas City, Brett had dozens of interview requests, which had to delight him.
With a bevy of over-the-top talent on both rosters, much of the buzz surrounded two players cut from the Brett cloth: 19-year-old Bryce Harper, who plays center field for the Washington Nationals, and 20-year-old left fielder Mike Trout from the Angels.
There are many players who simply go through the motion of signing an autograph or spending time with the media.
Brett was the complete opposite. He would comply not because he had to, but rather do so because he chose to. It seems Harper and Trout see the value in this.
Like Banks, who played his entire career withChicago’s North Side team, Brett wore the Kansas City Royals’ uniform his entire 21-year career that included a World Series title in 1985, and seven playoff appearances.
Who’s the best third baseman can be debated forever, but anyone following baseball closely will have on that short list Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, Eddie Mathews, and Brett, while a solid case could be made that Brett was the greatest left-handed hitting third sacker.
At age 59, Brett is the perfect ambassador because he is approachable, and remains a visible and friendly face in this Midwestern city.
Brett was born inWest Virginia, raised inSouthern California(El Segundo), and always ready to be quoted.
Eleven times Brett batted over .300, with a high of .390 in 1980 when he lashed 175 hits, including 33 doubles, nine triples, 24 homers and a personal-best 118 runs batted in.
Brett finished with 3,154 hits, and had an uncanny knack for finding the “sweet spot” on the bat.
There are essentially two types of hitters. The first make contact like Rod Carew, Pete Rose, Tony Gwynn, Wade Boggs, and Ichiro Suzuki, but they’re trying to hit for a high average, and not drive the ball over the wall.
Then there are sluggers like Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Reggie Jackson, Willie Mays, and Harmon Killebrew, but they rarely batted over .325, which Brett, a three-time American League batting champion, did five times.
Brett was a rare breed who could do both, smashing 317 homers, with a best of 30 in 1985.
Hitting the ball into the gap was something of a Brett specialty, and he closed his Hall of Fame ride with 665 doubles and 137 triples.
Brett was durable, playing in 2,707 games and had 10,349 at-bats, but what he seemed to relish was getting his uniform dirty, which is another reason why Harper and Trout have been compared with Brett.
Brett had a .305 lifetime average, drove in 1,595 runs, and toiled in a small market. He was wildly popular with theKansas Cityfans, and though he could have signed for much more money with the Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, Los Angeles Dodgers, or New York Mets, he chose to stay, which made him truly unique.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.