Royals name Hall of Famer Brett interim hitting coach
Grifol joins staff as special assignment coach; Maloof, David reassigned
ST. LOUIS -- George Brett never seemed fearful on his way to 3,154 hits, three batting titles, a World Series championship and the Hall of Fame. But he wasn't a hitting coach then.
Now, as interim hitting coach of the Royals, it's a whole new ballgame for Brett.
"I'm scared to death right now, to be honest with you," Brett said after his appointment was announced on Thursday. "But I'm looking forward to the challenge."
In addition to Brett, the Royals also installed Pedro Grifol as the Major League special assignment coach.
They will replace hitting coach Jack Maloof and assistant hitting coach Andre David on the Royals' staff. Installed in those roles just this year when former Royals star Kevin Seitzer was dismissed as hitting coach, Maloof and David were reassigned to the Royals' Minor League staff where they'd worked previously.
Brett joined the Royals immediately for Thursday night's game in St. Louis. Grifol will report for duty on Friday for a series at Texas.
General manager Dayton Moore and manager Ned Yost called Brett in recent days as the Royals' slide deepened. He'd rebuffed similar offers in the past so why did he accept now?
"Out of frustration," Brett said. "I feel the same frustration the players do, I feel the same frustration as our manager Ned and our general manager Dayton and our ownership, David and Dan Glass. I'm just frustrated watching it night after night after night."
Brett insisted on the "interim" part of his title.
"I'm planning on staying at least a month, hopefully more. We're one good week from turning this thing around, we're two good games from turning this around," he said.
He plans to meet with Moore in a month or to re-evaluate his status.
"We'll see. This might be something that I can't stand to do," Brett said. "I don't know. The players and I might not hit it off. I thought it best to do it on interim basis to start off with and we'll go from there."
The addition of Brett, if only on an interim basis, is sure to prove immensely popular in Kansas City where he's a revered link to the Royals' successful past. He's in the Royals' front office as vice president of baseball operations and annually serves as a hitting instructor during Spring Training.
The move also tends to reduce pressure on Yost, who has been under intense scrutiny during the Royals' recent slide in which they've lost 19 of their last 23 games including the last eight in a row.
No further staff changes are planned, according to Moore.
"This is the last move we're making," he said.
As Brett took over, his task looked formidable. Offense has been the primary culprit in the Royals' spin from a 17-10 start to the season to 21-29. With Wednesday night's crushing 5-3 loss to the Cardinals, they thudded into last place in the American League Central.
The team batting average was .261, ranking eighth in the AL, but the Royals were 13th among the 15 teams in runs scored with 199 and last in home runs by far at 28. In 16 of the 19 losses in their recent slide, they'd scored three or fewer runs.
When Brett was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1999, he pointed upward and thanked his long-time hitting coach, Charley Lau. At a news conference on Thursday, he invoked his name again.
"I'm basically going to be Charley Lau's ghost," he said.
It was Lau, as the Royals' hitting coach in Brett's formative years, who got him on track.
"I'm going to use the same hitting philosophy that worked for me, and that's the one that Charley Lau taught me in 1974 when I was hitting .200 at the All-Star break in 200 at-bats with two home runs and eight RBIs. And I ended up hitting .282 and came in third for Rookie of the Year," Brett said.
"I'm going to teach these guys the same thing that enabled me to win three batting championships in three decades and get 3,000 hits. If I can do it, these guys are better athletes than I was -- they're stronger, they're faster -- they've just got to have somebody they can trust, and I trusted Charley Lau with my heart and soul, and I hope these guys will trust me."
Brett said it was difficult to verbalize Lau's philosophy, but he had some ideas on how to shape up some of the Royals' young hitters who have been struggling.
"You've got to free up your brain to allow everything else to work. And right now their brain is so discombobulated because of the lack of scoring runs and everybody's putting so much pressure on themselves," Brett said. "When you have a whole team go south, guess what? Everybody starts pressing a little bit and you try to do more than you're capable of doing. You try to stretch the strike zone sometimes. You get out of whack, out of sorts. Basically, it's just going to try to get them in a comfort range where they can have fun, be selective and drive the ball."
He paused and added, "I know one thing -- we need Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer to swing the bat good if we're going to contend."
Grifol, 43, is as anonymous as Brett is famous. Grifol was originally assigned to be hitting coach of the Rookie classification team at Surprise, Ariz. He joined the Royals' organization this year after 13 seasons in the Mariners' system, most recently as manager for Class A High Desert last year. He was on Seattle's Major League staff in the second half of 2010.
Yost, who joined Brett and Moore at the news conference, said that Brett was much more than a famous presence at the Royals' Spring Training.
"From the minute George gets there in Spring Training to the end of the day, George is working," Yost said. "George hits fungoes, throws batting practice, talks to players in the weight room and the locker room. George is there from the first day of Spring Training to the last day. I've never seen a Hall of Famer with the work ethic that he has. And you can see why George was so successful -- his attitude, his passion for the game, his want to give everything that he has for his teammates.
"We're trying to get his thing turned around. We'll do whatever it takes to get it right because Dayton, myself, George -- we all feel we have the right kids in that locker room. We've got the right ingredients. But we've got to help them get through it. We've continue to mentor them, continue to teach them and we've got to continue to grow them up. And to me, this is the perfect choice."