If I were religious, I’d swear on a stack of Torahs that I watched on TV on July 24, 1983 the Pine Tar Game starring George Brett. Ask Dan Rosen, now a LCSW-R here in Rochester. Not a baseball fan, Dan could not comprehend my astonishment as Brett went “apeshit” (to use an 80s term) when called out for having too much resin on his bat. Please don’t tell me you haven’t heard about one of the most famous games in the history of baseball. Thirty two years ago today; the Pine Tar game
This week and maybe next, against the Mets, Brett’s Royals try to win their first World Series since 1985, having defeated the Toronto Blue Jays for the American League pennant just as they did 30 years ago, then beating the cross state St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, nicknamed the I-94 Series. Last year the Royals made it to the seventh game with the tying run left on third in the bottom of the ninth, the runner prudently but teasingly held up by his third base coach on a long triple that came oh-so-close to becoming an inside-the-park home run. Brett is still with the franchise as Vice President of Baseball Operations.
Growing up, George Brett was my baseball anti-hero and hero from the mid 70s to the early 80s. And another kind of “hero” to this socially awkward virginal adolescent cloistered in Brighton. “Bachelor Brett,” “Bachelor King” — the free spirited, King of KC nightlife, discoing and breaking hearts across the Midwest, Bull Durham in the Big Leagues, playing Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid with his drinking buddy and back up infielder Jamie Quirk, living for a while in a hotel where Al Capone partied, throwing bashes worthy of Gatsby in his Kansas ranch house designed like a mountain chalet.
Forever blowing bubbles, tousled hair, chiseled chin, grinning but never smirking. Driven, gritty, unafraid, Brett was a preternaturally pure hitter. In 1980 making a near run at Williams’s iconic .400. Brett was so good that rival players marveled. Al Oliver of the Texas Rangers said: “He[Brett] hits better than any white man I’ve ever seen. As a matter of fact, he hits so good he hits like a black man.”
But, alas, I was then a Texas Rangers fan. From 1976 – 1985, Brett dominated us as the Royals won 6 Division titles, a playoff spot in the split 1981 season, two American League pennants and finally the World Series. Why I was infatuated with the Rangers, I’ve never understood, but I finally broke off the dimming and unrequited engagement when George Bush bought the team.
Brett’s three straight division titles, ’76, ’77 and ’78, were especially galling. But at least I enjoyed some schadenfreude when each time the Yankees knocked the Royals off for the pennant. Especially in ’76. Brett had hit a three run home run to tie the game. Then in the bottom of the ninth Chris Chambliss won the series, rounding the bases, pushing off Yankees fans who were running onto to the field like muggers at a darkened subway stop.
But in ’79 when Morganna the Kissing Bandit skyjacked Brett during the All-Star, the tide began turning. A 70s icon, Morganna, an entertainer in various fields, was known for rushing onto baseball fields and kissing major league players. To an adolescent boy (who didn’t know about silicone), the sight of the busty banditress draped around the All American Boy — and what looks like a tell-tale sign in George’s pants — was enough to second guess my allegiance to the loser Rangers.
So in ’80, I cheered when Brett chased Teddy Ballgame, seeing what umpire Steve Palermo saw when he said: “If God had him [Brett] no balls and two strikes, he’d still get a hit.” And, when I saw the Pine Tar game live, swept away by Brett’s personal Passion Play as he stormed after two men dressed in white as if he were Ahab.
And, like Al Oliver, I marveled in ’80 when Brett hit three home runs in game 3 off
Catfish Hunter to sweep his nemesis Yankees. But then — after having gamely endured an “attack” of hemorrhoid s– to come up short in the Series in 6 to cheating Pete Rose’s Phillies. (Brett would later make an ad for Preparation H.) Then finally in ’85, when Willie Wilson, like a baptizing Minister, christened Brett on the mountain top. And KC has been waiting ever since.
Actually, back in Brett’s heyday — myself that socially awkward virginal adolescent cloistered in Brighton — I had only heard stories about the Bachelor King’s playboy ways here and there: a sly comment by a broadcaster, a piece or two in Sports Illustrated. That era, of course, was before facebook, twitter, and cell phone cameras. Kansas City is a smallish, regional market. So back then, what happened in K.C. stayed in K.C.
So I decided to fill in the details on my scanty recollections. Immediately, I was struck by how little I found.
Most came from a single 1980 Sports Illustrated article, “By George, He’s Some Hitter As a matter of fact, Kansas City’s Third Baseman George Brett might well be the best in baseball. And he is a big winner off the field.” The article describes Brett as: “The city’s Bachelor King, reigning benevolently over beauty queens, swinging singles and lonely divorcees.”
The ultimate, likeable regular guy, wandering around K.C. in “a wardrobe of T shirts and jeans that might embarrass a high school boy.” Peter Pan in cleats: “the perennial youngster, whose insouciance entertains men and, according to reliable reports, devastates womanhood.” (The article, of course, is sprinkled with the sexism of its era; Brett’s physical therapists are inevitably young and “pert” and his female bank tellers “pretty.”)
We are also taken back to those wild, freewheeling 70s and 80s as we catch George with some Saturday Night Fever:
He is back in the Bronco again, rolling toward a restaurant in the Plaza section of Kansas City called the Granfalloon. This is one of those spots frequented by the city’s singles crowd, of which George is virtually a charter member. Kansas City’s singles seem appreciably younger than the nocturnal carnivores of, say, New York or San Francisco, where silver threads among the gold are not uncommon. It is likely that in K.C. no one stays single or swinging for very long. Brett is known by everyone in the Granfalloon. His arrival is cause for a sort of celebration. They are honored by his presence. He is tying into some chicken wings, a bacon-pineapple Swissburger and a succession of beers when a very young-looking woman disengages herself from the bar and approaches him.
We don’t know where the evening ended. Maybe the Club Casbah in downtown K.C. in the Bellerive Hotel where George lived and Duke Ellington played and Billie Holliday sang and Al Capone drank his own gin.
The other interesting artifact I found was from July 1984. Some might recall Playgirl Magazine, heralded as the better half of Playboy. Apparently, Playgirl sent out girl scouts to size up potential centerfolds. Here are George’s pics and stats.
Actually, the Playgirl’s report is not much different from the depiction in the Sports Illustrated piece:
At 27, he [Brett] is what is customarily described as ruggedly handsome–a larger, much younger Steve McQueen, say. He has pale blue eyes, a strong, invariably stubbly chin and sandy hair that remains steadfastly tousled. A gap between his front teeth that once gave a certain antic charm to his smile has been closed by dental wizardry so that now his uppers are as bright and orderly as the incumbent President’s. Brett is six feet tall and about 200 pounds, the weight distributed like a running back’s–broad shoulders, low center of gravity, thick, strong legs.
I also did discover that in 1986 Brett was named by People Magazine as one of America’s Most Eligible Bachelors. According to the article;
Don’t think he gets to third base every night. “I’m always on the road, and when I come home, it’s to an empty house,” complains Kansas City’s $1.5 million man. “The married guys come back to wives, kids, dogs and cats. But I have to unlock the door myself and turn on the lights.” Brett says he doesn’t date much. “I’ve been playing major league ball for 13 years and I need sleep,” he explains. “Besides, it gets old going out every night.” His idea of a perfect evening involves a woman who’ll prepare a meal of “meat loaf, green peas, potatoes au gratin and maybe some chocolate chip cookies and a glass of milk, followed by a few hours in front of the TV. I’ve been single a long time, and I’ve gotten pretty set in my ways.” The women he does date are usually in their 20s because, Brett says, “with older women you have to get dressed up.”
33 years old and already slowing down and pining for matrimony. George, we hardly knew ye!
The story ends happy if not in Camelot. Six years later, Brett married the former Leslie Davenport, and they reside in the Kansas City suburb of Mission Hills. The couple has three children: Jackson (named after Brett’s father), Dylan (named after Bob Dylan ), and Robin (named after fellow Hall of Famer Robin Yount). George and his dog Charlie appeared in a PETA campaign, encouraging people not to leave their canine companions in the car during hot weather.
So I never did not discover all that much about the reign of the Bachelor King. Except he was probably fortunate to leave “the game” in 1992 before the internet. I did find one brief mention about cocaine use amongst baseball players in the early 80s:
In the early 1980s, many baseball players were using cocaine. Some of them got into trouble, and a few of Brett’s Kansas City teammates went to prison. Now, I’m not going to suggest that Brett was using cocaine, but I do know he was considered one of the hardest partiers in the Midwest at that time. Funny thing, though … Brett never got into any trouble. None that made the papers, anyway.
The operative term is “the papers.” If it had been now, googling “George Brett” and “cocaine” would yield a million hits.
No doubt we don’t want to know everything that happened on those nights after the game in the Bellerive Hotel or the Club Casbah or in his chateau on the shores of Lake Quivira, Kansas. And, yes, maybe playboy athletes aren’t the best role model for today’s youth. Hopefully just chandeliers were broken and not too many hearts. And maybe if Brett hadn’t partied so much he wouldn’t have gotten hurt as much and he would have hit .400 in 1980.
So if the Royals win this week and you see George, now 61, drinking champagne once more 30 years later, that used to be Bachelor Brett. Hey, its a free country!