George Brett displayed his considerable excellence through 10,349 Major League at-bats and 21 seasons with the Royals. One clear snapshot of his hitting skills developed much more quickly -- in his first and only appearance at San Francisco’s Candlestick Park.
The date was July 10, 1984. The occasion was the All-Star Game. Facing Montreal’s Charlie Lea, Brett defied a typical Candlestick crosswind -- gusts howling toward left field alongside the jet stream flowing to right-center -- to belt a second-inning homer for the American League’s lone run. Brett somehow hit a line drive forcefully enough to propel the ball through the breezes and over the barrier in straightaway center field.
Few hitters could make contact so squarely and yet put enough loft on the ball to clobber it out of the park. Then again, few hitters shared Brett’s skill.
Here’s a look at 10 of the top moments and events from the Hall of Fame third baseman’s career:
1. Slaying the dragon
Oct. 10, 1980
After losing to the Yankees in three consecutive American League Championship Series (1976-78), the Royals finally pierced New York’s armor by sweeping the ALCS in three games. Brett delivered a paralyzing uppercut in the Game 3 clincher at Yankee Stadium, drilling a three-run, seventh-inning homer off Goose Gossage that erased a 2-1 New York lead and sent the Royals to the World Series. (They lost to the Phillies in six games.)
2. The Pine Tar Game
July 24, 1983
Brett’s two-out, two-run homer off Gossage gave the Royals a 5-4, ninth-inning edge – at least until Yankees manager Billy Martin suggested to the umpiring crew that Brett had too much pine tar coating his bat. The umps agreed, disallowing Brett’s homer and declaring that he was out. An enraged Brett sprang from the dugout and raced toward plate umpire Tim McClelland. The Royals protested the game, and AL President Lee MacPhail upheld the protest, ordering the game to be played from the juncture when Brett homered. That conclusion was set for Aug. 18. Kansas City prevailed, 5-4.
3. Fabulous foursomes
Oct. 11 and Oct. 27, 1985
Brett twice collected four hits in a postseason game. On the first occasion, the Royals trailed Toronto in the ALCS, 2-0, but rallied in Game 3 as Brett went 4-for-4 with a double, two homers and three RBIs. Brett then batted .370 in the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, including a 4-for-5 performance in Kansas City’s 11-0 triumph in Game 7. Brett was a superb postseason performer overall, batting .337 with a 1.023 OPS in 43 games.
4. Mighty .390
Brett very nearly became baseball’s first .400 hitter since Ted Williams in 1941. Through Sept. 19, with 13 games left, Brett’s batting average stood at .400 after a 2-for-4 effort against Oakland. He went 4-for-23 in his next six games, dropping his average to .384. A 7-for-10 binge hiked Brett’s average to .391, but the prolonged hot streak that he needed eluded him. Brett flirted with .400 by launching a 30-game hitting streak in midsummer. He hit .467 (57-for-122) during that stretch. He peaked on Aug. 26, when his average reached .407.
5. Proving his value
Brett won the AL Most Valuable Player Award for his fantastic 1980 campaign. He easily could have captured the honor once or twice more. He finished second in ’76 (Major League-high 215 hits and 14 triples) and in 1985 (Major League-best 1.022 OPS, AL-best 179 OPS+). He also finished third in 1979 (212 hits and 20 triples, tops in Majors).
6. Far above average
1976, 1980, 1990
Brett’s the only player to win batting titles in three different decades, coming out on top in 1976 (.333), 1980 (.390) and 1990 (.329), when he also matched his career high with 45 doubles. The ’76 winner wasn’t determined until the main contenders’ final at-bat in a season-ending series against Minnesota. Hal McRae, Brett’s teammate, owned a .33269 average, compared to Brett’s .33229. In his last plate appearance, Brett hit a lazy fly to left fielder Steve Brye, who misplayed the ball into an inside-the-park-homer. McRae grounded out, which made Brett the batting champ -- and made McRae furious. McRae was gracious toward Brett but leveled charges of racism against Brye and Twins manager Gene Mauch, claiming that they conspired against him.
7. Hey, this is great -- whoops!
Sept. 30, 1992
Brett rapped a double and three singles in this game to reach the 3,000-hit level. He collected his milestone hit off Angels left-hander Tim Fortugno and got a little too distracted by celebrating. Fortugno promptly picked him off first base.
8. Seeing stars
July 6, 1983
If Fred Lynn hadn’t recorded his third-inning grand slam, Brett might have been the next-best choice for All-Star Game MVP. His sacrifice fly opened the AL’s scoring in the first inning. He then tripled off Atlee Hammaker and scored during the AL’s seven-run third inning. Brett also doubled off Lee Smith and scored in the eighth inning.
9. Easy choice for Cooperstown
Brett joined an august class of Hall of Fame inductees. He entered baseball’s shrine alongside Milwaukee Brewers legend Robin Yount and all-time strikeout king Nolan Ryan. Brett was named on 488 of 497 ballots -- 98.2 percent, the fourth-highest total up to that point behind Ryan, Tom Seaver and Ty Cobb.
10. In good company
Brett was more elite than probably some of his biggest fans realize. He’s among only five players to compile a .300 batting average, 3,000 hits and at least 300 home runs. The others are Hank Aaron, Willie Mays, Stan Musial and Albert Pujols. Noted analyst Bill James ranked Brett as the second-best third baseman in history, behind Mike Schmidt.