There was more.
Pictures of Brett at the World Series in St. Louis, wearing a Cardinals cap in
the stands and kidding with his former manager, Whitey Herzog, fueled rumors
that he sought to be traded. Brett spent the off-season in Palm Springs—he had
previously wintered mostly in Kansas City—and Bobby suggested from his Southern
California offices that his "unhappy" client might not report for
spring training. Meanwhile, the talk among disappointed K.C. fans was that
money and fame had "ruined" and "spoiled" George.
Since his MVP
season of 1980, Brett has batted .314 and .301—not shabby, but nowhere near
.390, either. Bothered by the sudden lack of privacy following his '80
performance, the previously affable Brett courted Billy Martin-style notoriety
with a series of off-the-field incidents: poking a photographer with a crutch,
demolishing a clubhouse toilet with a baseball bat, scuffling with a
sharp-tongued woman reporter in an Anaheim hotel lobby. "It was probably
just my imagination," Brett says, "but after that great year, if I
struck out or made an error, it was news. If someone else did it, no one
never materialized. After a closed-door meeting with Kansas City owner Ewing
Kauffman, President Joe Burke and General Manager John Schuerholz, Brett
announced that the whole furor had been caused by a "misunderstanding"
and that although the Royals had given him nothing he had asked for, he was
happy again and looking forward to spending the rest of his career in a K.C.
uniform. "We had no notion of trading George, ever," Schuerholz said
later. "Not even at the height of the crisis."
up with his disillusioned fans would take more time, Brett figured. "That
was in January," he recalls. "A lot of the time during the winter when
I was jogging, I would think about it. I knew how lucky I was to be playing in
Kansas City, where we average 27,000, 28,000 farts a night, which is
incredible. The fans here let you know that they appreciate you."
Brett reported to
spring training early, got off to a terrific start at the plate and made it
known that reporters need no longer tiptoe past his locker, as they did last
season. Brett's bat cooled off—he finished the spring in a 2-for-32 slump—but
he dispensed enough charm to put fans in a forgiving mood. "George has
always played the game with youthful exuberance," Schuerholz notes with
satisfaction. "He hasn't lost his appeal or charisma."
The truth is that
Brett will turn 30 on May 15, and the past winter can be looked at as a sort of
baseball midlife crisis. "I was always the youngest player on all my
teams," he says, "and now I look around and realize that I've been
playing with guys like Amos Otis and Hal McRae for nine years. There were times
last season when playing was drudgery, but I realize I should be enjoying every
minute of it while I'm here, regardless of how I'm doing."
Brett's life also
now resembles that of Hank Williams Jr., who once sang, "All my rowdy
friends have settled down." "It seems like everybody I used to pal
around with is married now," Brett says. He counts off the victims on the
fingers of two hands—including older brother Ken, a former player, who is
engaged. "I have good friends who are married, too, but they really don't
have the interests I have. And I don't like to go home to an empty house."
In particular, Brett mourns the loss of his longtime pal and teammate Jamie
Quirk, who not only got married in the off-season, but then left the Royals,
signing as a free agent with the Cardinals. Brett doesn't hide how Quirk's
absence from Kansas City has left him: "Lost!" he yelps.
If he's lonely,
Brett appears determined not to let it undermine his game. In Florida he worked
as hard on his hitting as he did in his early years, when he grooved his swing
under the tutelage of hitting instructor Charley Lau. "I didn't have
confidence in my swing after last season," Brett explains. "No
rhythm." With the encouragement of Royals Batting Coach Rocky Colavito,
Brett worked on getting more pop out of his top hand. "Last year my hands
were lazy," he says. "The bat was sort of dragging through the strike
zone. Rocky got me thinking strong hands again, throwing my bat at the
The results were
not immediately encouraging. "Two-for-32!" Brett snorts. "I thought
I was going to have one of those .210s in April like I usually do."
Instead, on his first at bat, Opening Day in Baltimore, Brett drove a fastball
into the gap and got a double. "Then I hit a homer in my next time at
A week later,
three doubles in a losing effort against the Brewers convinced Brett that the
line drives were jumping off his bat again. Detroit confirmed his belief in his
home-run stroke. Brett says, "The only thing wrong with my swing right now
is that I can't stand back and watch it."