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All Along, Kansas City Had Its Ace in the Hole Playing at Third Base

October 28, 1985|JIM MURRAY

KANSAS CITY — Well, it was a Royal flush. All blue. Read 'em and weep. All 11 of 'em.

The Cardinals had to fold aces. The Royals had all the blue chips. The Cardinals couldn't see the raise.

Listen! Stop me if you've heard this. But, if you want someone to play the fiddle for you, try Perlman.

If you want someone to sing, see if Sinatra's available.

If you want Shakespeare, call on Olivier.

If you want a football thrown, try Joe Montana. If you want golf played, get Nicklaus.

If you like fights, go see Marvin Hagler. In tennis, you could do worse than Lendl.

But, if you want somebody to hit a baseball for you, George Howard Brett is your man.

Nobody in baseball history ever struck a baseball any better than Mister Brett--not Rogers Hornsby, Cobb, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Mays, Mantle, any of them.

No third baseman ever came close.

The Kansas City Royals are baseball champions of the world today largely because of George Howard Brett. They are his lengthened shadow as an institution.

Oh, it was not the four consecutive hits, the stolen base, the run scored in Game 7 Sunday night. It wasn't that he kept the rallies going, the fires burning, the victory possible.

It's just that George Brett has been doing that since he hit this town.

That, by the way, the year he hit this town, was 1974.

Know how many pennants the Royals have hung up in the years since Brett joined them? Six. In 11 years. Players have come and players have gone. Managers there were seven.

The one constant has been George Brett.

It's been no secret around the league. Stop Brett and you stop the Royals. "Don't let George Brett beat you no ball games," is the standard baseball double-negative for players of Brett's caliber.

No one has stopped Brett yet.

Someone asked in the interview room the other night if the Royals were a dynasty. Rival Manager Whitey Herzog's reply was unprintable.

The Royals aren't a dynasty. George Brett is a dynasty.

He's always there in the middle of that lineup with that big bat, that quick weight shift, the catlike adjustment. You need a base hit to left, you get it from George. You need a home run, he can do that, too.

He can play third base a well as it has to be played, too. No one notices. It's like noticing whether Caruso can dance.

George Brett is as sure a bet for Cooperstown as Pete Rose. You get the same intensity, the same drive, the same sheer enjoyment of the fun of the game.

So, how come he isn't as famous? The 4000 hits? Well, yes. But, also because no one was paying attention because George Brett was doing what he was doing in, of all places, Kansas City--that funny little franchise out there on the end of the cattle drive. Cowtown USA. Let's see, The Blues, right? No, the Royals, that's it. The team with the delusions of grandeur that the Yankees keep bopping over every October.

Only, they keep coming back. Because they have Brett.

Of course, he can't do it all himself. Not even Ruth could do that.

But, consider the things Brett has done. He led the league in hitting the year Kansas City won its first Western Division title. He batted .390 the year they went to their first World Series. You heard me. No third baseman in this century batted .390 and not many players from any position.

He almost single-handedly used to stand off the Yankees in playoffs. He batted .444 in the first one. He hit .389 in another one. He hit .375 in his only World Series--with hemorrhoids so bad he couldn't drive a car.

If Brett did what he did in New York, he'd be a candy bar. If he did it in California, he'd be a junior high school.

As much as anybody, he brought this town its first world championship this month. You have to go back to Frank Merriwell to find exploits like his. You don't usually find them off the pages of a kids' book.

First of all, he batted second in the league this year with a .335 average. He was in the top ten in home runs with 30, fifth in runs-batted-in with 112, fifth in runs-scored and third in walks with 103.

But, it's when he smells a pennant that Brett turns really predatory, like a tiger who sees a staked water buffalo.

In the last six games of the regular season, at a time when his team was still a game behind the California Angels, George Howard Brett took out the A game. He went 9 for 21 with 5 home runs and 10 runs-batted-in. The Angels never had a chance.

The Toronto Blue Jays never had a chance. In the playoff series, they got as far in front as they could get. They walked Brett once when it all but put a tying run across the plate. But, nothing worked. Just when they seemed to be in reach of the pennant, George hit two home runs in a single game. He went 8-for-23 in the seven playoff games. There wouldn't have been seven without George Brett.

In career post season play up to Sunday night, George Brett was 50 for 157 in hits with 10 home runs and 23 runs-batted-in.

Sunday night, George Brett only hit safely his first four times up, stole a base, scored a run, won a World Series.

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