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Friday marks 40th anniversary of Brett's debut

Hall of Famer recorded first of his 3,154 hits against White Sox in Chicago

NEW YORK -- This seems to be the summer of George Brett.

Brett emerged from his comfortable existence as Kansas City's most-renowned citizen and low-key club vice president to step in as the Royals' interim hitting coach in late May. That came 20 years after he'd retired as an active player in 1993.

In July, there was a fuss made over the 30th anniversary of his famous Pine Tar Game in 1983. He held news conferences in both New York and Kansas City to discuss the event.

Then Brett decided to step out of his coaching role, which occasioned another news conference in Kansas City to discuss that. That came roughly two months after the news conference in St. Louis to discuss why he'd taken it on in the first place.

And now, wouldn't you know, Brett is the object of attention again, because Friday marks the 40th anniversary of his first Major League game on Aug. 2, 1973.

"Another anniversary," Brett said. "I promise you there will be no press conference for this one."

No, and Brett is morphing back into his more laid-back life as a Kansas City icon as well as a club executive and valued advisor of general manager Dayton Moore. Also, as husband and father. Brett and wife Leslie took off this week to spend time at a family ranch in Idaho. So he's not around to reminisce about his first day in the Majors, a game against the White Sox at Chicago's old Comiskey Park.

Keep in mind this was 40 years ago and Brett was 20 years old -- did we mention his 60th birthday was May 15? -- and he doesn't have real vivid memories of that day.

Brett was summoned from Triple-A Omaha, and he later recalled that when Omaha manager Harry Malmberg came to the apartment he shared with pitcher Mark Littell and catcher Buck Martinez with news of a promotion, both he and Martinez figured it was Littell going up. But, no, Brett got the call to fill in for veteran third baseman Paul Schaal, who'd sprained an ankle.

So off Brett went to Chicago, arriving not long before game time to discover he was in the lineup and batting eighth against right-hander Stan Bahnsen. He came up in the second inning.

"I hit a line drive and Stan Bahnsen caught it, and the next at-bat I hit a broken-bat single to left. That's all I remember," Brett said. "I can't remember my third or fourth at-bat, I can't tell you if we won or lost."

Well, he looked at strike three and grounded out in his last two at-bats, also against Bahnsen, and the Royals won the game, 3-1.

"I remember after the game, we jumped on a plane and flew to Minnesota," Brett said.

The Brett break-in period turned out to be rather brief and unimpressive.

"I played in a few games and sat on the bench for two weeks, and then I got sent down. I went 1-for-4 the first game, 1-for-4 the second game and didn't play again," Brett said.

It wasn't quite that brief. He played four games and went 2-for-14 before being benched and returned to Omaha.

"I went back to Triple-A and played there, and got called up in September and ended up getting 40 at-bats and hit .125 or .175 or whatever it was," Brett said.

Brett finished his 13 games with a .125 (5-for-40) average and made the club the next spring. Success was slow in coming, but the big change in his baseball life occurred when he came under the influence of Royals hitting coach Charley Lau.

"That was at the All-Star break in 1974," Brett said.

Brett was batting .232 at the break that year, and from that point on, he hit .316 to finish the season with an overall average of .282. It was a rise of 50 points, and Brett's career began to flourish. It peaked at .390 in 1980.

When Brett was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999, he pointed heavenward to thank Lau, who died of cancer in 1984.

And the night that Brett assumed the role of hitting coach this year, he again invoked the name of his old mentor.

"I'm basically going to be Charley Lau's ghost," he said.

Indeed, perhaps Brett inspired the Royals the way Lau inspired him. They had a winning record during his tenure and have an 11-2 record since the All-Star break. Yep, there's that All-Star break thing again.

Anyway, 40 years ago on Friday, Brett was far, far away from three batting titles, an American League Most Valuable Player Award, 13 All-Star selections, two World Series and the Hall of Fame. That day in Chicago, he broke his bat and got his first hit. There were 3,153 more to come.

Dick Kaegel is a reporter for
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