Brett recalls induction into 3,000-hit club
Hall of Famer reached mark against the Angels in 1992
KANSAS CITY -- Finally Derek Jeter, after a delay because of an injury, reached the 3,000-hit mark with a home run on Saturday. George Brett, the Royals' member of the 3,000 club, can relate to that interruption.
An injury to Brett's left shoulder late in the 1992 season almost left him with a winter-long wait to finalize his pursuit.
"I didn't know if I was going to be able to play the rest of the year," Brett said. "I don't know how I hurt it, but I hurt it in Minnesota and we flew to Anaheim after the game. And I woke up the next day and I was really, really uncomfortable, and I ended up getting a cortisone shot."
Only seven games remained on the Royals' '92 schedule -- four games at the Angels and three against the Twins in Kansas City. Brett was four hits short.
Brett knew it took 24 to 48 hours for the cortisone to do its thing, so the series opener at Anaheim was out.
"A lot of people flew from Kansas City thinking I was going to get it," Brett said. "I remember the first game was on a Monday and they all came to the ballpark, and I didn't play, and I think a lot of them left about the second or third inning because the Chiefs were on Monday Night Football."
There was intrigue involved. Two Kansas City Star reporters -- including this writer -- did a Starsky & Hutch, staking out the office of renowned specialist Dr. Lewis Yocum where Brett went for evaluation. Brett, peeking out of the doc's office door, could only laugh and exclaim, "What are you guys doing here?"
The second game also was a no-go after Brett took some dry swings and couldn't swing hard enough because of the sore shoulder.
"Then the next day it felt a lot better, as long as I didn't over-swing and so, I went out and played and tried not to over-swing, and just put the ball in play," he said.
This was Sept. 30, 1992.
Brett doubled to left in the first inning against Angels right-hander Julio Valera. In the third, he grounded a single past the second baseman to put him at 2,998.
At this point, the Star reporters alerted their news desk, which was facing a very tight deadline with the game on West Coast time, to get ready to tear up page A-1. There was an inescapable feeling that he was going to do it and this was front-page news in Kansas City. Brett wasn't so sure. But he remembered feeling very relaxed and he lined a single to center field in the fifth inning. One to go.
By this time a left-hander, Tim Fortugno, was pitching for the Angels and faced the left-handed-hitting Brett. No. 3,000 loomed over everything.
"It's just something about the magnitude," Brett said. "I don't know how many hitters in the history of the game have got 3,000 hits in their first attempt, because normally there's so much tension and so much anxiety going up there and trying to get such a memorable hit. I just remember I was real calm, a little nervous in the on-deck circle, but I got in the batter's box and all of sudden everything slowed down for me a little bit. The first pitch I saw I hit a hard ground ball into right field. You kind of think you're not going to do it your first time because you're going to be so amped-up and hyped-up, thinking about that.
"[Legendary hitting coach] Charley Lau used to say, 'Too much tension is like a cancer.' And I had no tension, I was as calm as ever. That really surprised me and, as a result, with no tension in my swing, no tension in gripping the bat, no tension anywhere, my mind was free and I just saw the ball, reacted and got a base hit. I was kind of amazed at how calm I was once I got in the batter's box."
The ball skipped past the veteran Ken Oberkfell, who was patrolling second base.
"I hit the dog snot out of it. It was right at him and took a bad hop going over his head, and he fell down getting out of the way. But I hit the ball hard," Brett recalled. "The first hit wasn't hit that hard, the second hit wasn't hit that hard, but the next two were solid, off the good part of the bat, one to center field, one to right field. I was happy about that, I didn't want to get a bloop for the 3,000th hit but I hit the ball extremely hard which I was proud of."
|"It's just something about the magnitude. I don't know how many hitters in the history of the game have got 3,000 hits in their first attempt because normally there's so much tension and so much anxiety going up there and trying to get such a memorable hit."|
|-- George Brett|
The Royals' players poured out of the dugout to swarm around Brett and the bullpen crew charged through the outfield, one of the foresighted relief pitchers even armed with a video camera for the occasion.
"Well, it was late in the season. It was just one of those things," Brett said. "It was a lot of fun for the players on the team to see it and be a part of something like that. Not that many players have been around it where a teammate gets 3,000 hits. How many people have got 3,000 hits? Twenty-one? Twenty-two? I was the 18th guy, so there were 24 other guys on the same team with a guy that got 3,000 hits, so there was a lot of excitement for them, I think."
In the afterglow of such history Fortugno, perhaps miffed that he'd be remembered only as the victim, proceeded to make a quick toss to first base and Brett was unceremoniously picked off.
"I think my mind was wandering a little bit. The first baseman was Gary Gaetti and we were having a little conversation," he said.
Brett, the designated hitter that night, batted once more and reached base on an error and was replaced by a pinch-runner to great applause.
This was the third game of the series, so Brett's friends from Kansas City were in the stands, not off watching the Chiefs on TV somewhere. There were some notable absences, however.
"My brother John at that time lived about an hour and a half from Anaheim Stadium. So he said, 'I ain't gonna go, if he gets a couple hits, I'll go tomorrow.' So he's watching on television and I get the first hit. Then I got the second one and he's going, 'Geez, he's going to get three more at-bats; he might get two. I think I'm going to drive there.' And then he said, 'Naw, he ain't gonna get two more hits.' Sure enough, I get my third hit and he got in the car and started driving. And he got to the Doubletree Hotel for the little party they had for me afterward," Brett said.
"And my brother Bobby was up in Spokane. If I got a couple hits, he was going to come down the next day, so I got four in one day. My brother Ken was there -- he was the announcer for the Angels. That made it all worthwhile, him being there, because he played Major League Baseball for 12 years. I faced him and he was part of those 3,000 hits. So it was a lot fun -- my mom was there, my wife was there, and a lot of friends from Kansas City. There were a lot of high school buddies and some friends of my parents so it was good fun."
Even almost 19 years later Brett has one regret.
"The perfect thing would've been for it to happen in Kansas City," he said.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.