Hall of Famer returns to former role as Royals VP of baseball operations
KANSAS CITY -- George Brett made an emotional, somewhat reluctant farewell, to his 56-day stay as the Royals' hitting coach.
"It's been a tremendous, tremendous experience for me after being gone for 20 years from the game -- to have an opportunity again, to put on a uniform" -- and here his voice quavered with emotion -- "it was special," Brett said.
Brett and the Royals announced on Thursday that his tenure as interim hitting coach, which began on May 30 at St. Louis, is over. The end came on the eve of a 10-day, nine-game trip that will take the Royals through Chicago, Minnesota and New York.
Pedro Grifol, who's been working alongside Brett, will assume the role of hitting coach.
Brett will resume his position as the Royals' vice president of baseball operations and, according to general manager Dayton Moore, will expand his duties.
"His involvement is going to grow deeper in the future and it's going to be enhanced, and he's going to be involved in everything we do in baseball operations from the bottom up," Moore said.
In addition, Brett said he will continue to coach players prior to home games throughout the season at Kauffman Stadium.
After Brett retired as a player in 1993, he and wife Leslie were kept busy raising one, two and then three sons. For many years, Brett devoted much of his time to his boys, Jackson, Dylan and Robin.
"So many players that played the game of baseball did not have a chance to watch their kids grow up," he said. "I had that opportunity and I didn't want to waste it."
Now with two sons in college and one in high school, Brett once again has more time to devote to baseball.
Brett, a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1999, said that he enjoyed working with today's young players, but that it was difficult readjusting to the baseball lifestyle.
"I don't want to say I hate the travel, I don't want to say it's too much of a grind. It's just a different lifestyle that I'm used to," he said. "I didn't mind it when I was 20 years old, I didn't mind it when I was 35 years old. I started minding it when I was 39 and 40, the last two years I played, and now I'm 60. I was trying to do that life again and it was just very difficult for me."
It was on a memorable, rainy night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis that Brett and Grifol replaced hitting coach Jack Maloof and assistant hitting coach Andre David who were reassigned to the Minor Leagues. The Royals' offense had been sputtering, the club stood in last place at 21-29 and had lost 19 of its last 23 games including eight in a row.
"We needed to be rescued mentally," Moore said.
The Brett magic worked immediately. He and the Royals had to wait out an interminable rain delay but beat the Cardinals, 4-2, with the final out coming at 3:14 a.m. CT. And they arrived for their next series with the Rangers past sun-up in Texas. Welcome back, George.
"He came in and did a great job," manager Ned Yost said. "It was great having him here. He worked his tail off and it got to the point where he and Pedro worked well together to get these guys turned around."
Overall, some numbers went down: Prior to Brett's arrival, the Royals were batting .261 as a team and were 13th in runs scored, averaging 3.98 runs a game. After Brett, their team average was .248 and they were still 13th in runs scored, averaging 3.81 runs a game.
But, and it's a big but, during Brett's time the club had a winning record, 26-22 and had moved into third place in the American League Central standings.
Yost also credited Brett and Grifol for giving three key struggling players, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Alcides Escobar, a boost.
One key element was to restore players' confidence in their abilities and convince them they were ready.
"Sometimes guys weren't and we tricked 'em," Brett revealed. "We'd tell them in BP, 'Your swing looks great.' And it was terrible. Just so they believed they could get a hit. ... Because if you believe in yourself, it's amazing what you can accomplish. If you have no confidence in yourself, you have no chance."
A hard worker as a player, Brett showed similar resolve as a coach.
"It was a chance for our guys to see his work ethic," Yost said. "Our guys all have a great work ethic, but to have a Hall of Famer put in the work that he put in was phenomenal. It was extremely impressive."
Brett might have been an inspiration, but he belittled his coaching ability.
"I was not a good mechanical hitting coach, I'll be the first to admit that," he said.
Brett and Yost agreed that Grifol was the right choice as the full-time hitting coach.
"He's prepared, he's got knowledge, he does his homework, he has great rapport with these hitters," Yost said.
It's likely that a second hitting coach from the Minor Leagues will be brought in to assist Grifol when the roster is expanded in September.
Brett prepared for his departure by conferring with club owner David Glass, Moore, Yost and Grifol.
"I'm very, very thankful to Dayton, to the organization for having confidence in me to come and try to revamp, awaken the offense. I think we did that to a degree," Brett said. "But I think all in all, Pedro has done a fantastic job and the players have taken to Pedro in a great manner."
Although the Hall of Fame ceremonies are this weekend, Brett won't make the trip to Cooperstown.
"When the team's on the road, I'm going to go to a ranch my family owns in Idaho for five days," Brett said.
So he'll ride off into the sunset, no doubt remembering the glorious last at-bat of his tenure -- Escobar's game-winning double off the wall in Wednesday's 4-3 walk-off win against the Orioles.