Debuting at the young age of 20 years old, just a year after Mike Schmidt entered the bigs, George Brett became the Kansas City Royals franchise player. Brett played his entire career for the Royals, leading them to six AL Championships and two World Series in their heyday of the late '70s and early '80s. The all-time team leader in every offensive category except for stolen bases, Brett's number 5 was retired along with those of former manager Dick Howser and second baseman Frank White on April 7, 1997.
Initially a fastball hitter, he worked with batting coach Charlie Lau to improve his hitting, and he captured his first of three batting titles in 1976 with a .333 average (Brett is the only man to win a batting title in three different decades). That was also the first of ten .300+ seasons. In 1979 Brett tallied 85 extra-base hits and was only the sixth player ever to rip 20 or more doubles, triples, and home runs in the same season. His 1980 season, during which he flirted with .400 for most of the year and ended up at .390, won him an MVP award and he topped the league batting average by 120 points (the league average that year was .271, roughly where it's been in the mid-to-late 1990s). He managed a 37-game hit streak that season.
Brett proved more than a one-dimensional player by continually improving his defense and baserunning. He won a Gold Glove in 1985, and stole 201 bases during his career. Brett finished his 21-year career as the only major leaguer to combine for over 3,000 hits (3,154), 300 homeruns (317), 600 doubles (665), 100 triples (137), and 200 stolen bases (201). His 1,595 RBI and 1,583 runs scored lead all major league third basemen.
Brett was also a terrific clutch performer. In 1980, Brett's upper-deck homer off Goose Gossage in the top of the seventh inning in Game 3 of the ALCS sealed a three-game sweep of the Yankees. He went on to hit .375 in the Series, the Royals fell to the Phillies in six. In 1985, he ripped the Toronto Blue Jays for a .348 batting average, and posted a .370 average in the 1985 Series against the Cardinals to give his team its first and only World Championship. His nine career home runs and .728 slugging average are LCS records.
An American League favorite throughout his career, Brett was named the League's Player of the Week a record 12 times.
Brett may be remembered longest for his "Pine Tar" home run - one day in Yankee Stadium, on July 24, 1983, Brett crushed a home run off Goose Gossage to give his team a 5-4 lead; but Yankee manager Billy Martin requested the umpires check his bat for excess pine tar. After the umps ruled the bat illegal and negated the home run, Brett charged out of the dugout to protest the call - his frenzied, furious protest is one o the funnest bits of replay television I've ever seen. The ump's decision was later overruled by AL President Lee McPhail, who noted that Brett's homer should count because the bat was not "altered to improve the distance factor." The game was resumed on August 18 and the Royals completed the 5-4 victory.
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