By George A. King III
Royals great George Brett has been a major presence during the team’s run to the World Series.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A man who tormented George Steinbrenner’s team had a father who visited his native Brooklyn late in life to take a final look at New York, where he was raised, educated, worked and fathered three sons.
The year was 1992, and while the Royals-Yankees rivalry was nowhere near as hot as it was in the ’80s, there was no way The Boss or anybody associated with the Yankees would ever forget how George Brett punished the Yankees.
Brett, a career .307 hitter with 29 homers and 117 RBIs in 203 games against the Yankees, was a year away from retiring and waiting five more to enter Cooperstown on the first ballot.
Arthur Richman, who worked for Steinbrenner and was close with the greatest player in Royals history, told The Boss that Jack Brett was coming to see New York for the final time.
“Two weeks before he passed away, he went back to New York to see the old sights,’’ George Brett said of Jack, who attended Pace University, during the Royals’ amazing run to the World Series that starts Tuesday night with Game 1 at Kauffman Stadium against the Giants. “My brother Ken was there and Arthur must have said something to George because the whole time he was in New York a Town Car was at his disposal thanks to George.’’
Ken Brett pitched in the big leagues for 14 years, including two games for the 1976 Yankees.
George Steinbrenner during his heyday
Goose Gossage and Willie Randolph, a Brooklyn native, never heard of the Brett family’s connection to Brooklyn. But Steinbrenner lending a hand to Jack Brett didn’t surprise Gossage.
“George [Steinbrenner] had tremendous respect for gamers, and George [Brett] was a gamer,’’ Gossage said of the left-handed hitter who took Gossage into the upper deck of Yankee Stadium to finish the Yankees in the third game of the 1980 ALCS, won by the Royals, 3-0, and homered off him in the infamous “Pine Tar Game’’ in 1983 at the Stadium.
Despite being dealt by the Pirates with Ken Brett — and Dock Ellis — to the Yankees for Doc Medich on Dec. 11, 1975, Randolph was startled to learn of Brett’s Brooklyn background.
“I didn’t know that,’’ the Tilden High School product said.
Brett’s three brothers were born in Brooklyn. George Brett was born in Glen Dale, West Va. The Brett family then moved to Southern California.
“I never asked why,’’ Brett said of him being the only son of Jack and Ethel not born in Brooklyn.
As Brett developed into one of the best hitters ever, he didn’t ignore his parents’ roots.
“Every time we played the Yankees, I would go see my grandmothers in Brooklyn,’’ said Brett, a VP of baseball operations with the Royals. “It was on 4th and Ovington.’’
Randolph remembers how intense the Royals-Yankees rivalry was and how it’s not completely dead to Brett.
“People talk about the Yankees and Red Sox, that rivalry with the Royals was just as intense. We respected them, but we went at it with them and we fought with them,’’ Randolph said. “If I see George Brett today, he gives me a half high-five. To this day he won’t let it go. He won’t give me a lot of conversation.’’
Thirty-four baseball seasons later, Gossage can’t get the sound of Brett’s 1980 homer out of his head.
“That was the last nail in the coffin. With the pitch I never heard a bat make contact like that. I flinched at the noise,’’ Gossage recalls. “I could never get it out of my head and never have.’’
The bitterness of the Yankees-Royals rivalry has faded to the point Gossage was thinking of his nemesis as the Royals rolled to the World Series for the first time since 1985.
“I watched their playoff run and I thought how excited he must be,’’ Gossage said. “I hated all the Royals, but George, wow-wee. It’s the thing I miss the most, facing a guy like him. He was the ultimate challenge.’’