- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
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- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
George Brett, imaginary placekicker for the Kansas City Chiefs, stares at the ball teed up on the 20-yard line of the Los Angeles Coliseum field and sizes up the situation. "Ten seconds left in the Super Bowl, and the Chiefs trail by two."
Thus primed, Brett begins his approach, remembering to keep his head down and to follow through (thank you, Charley Lau), and boom—or, really, pfft—"It's up! it's good! The Chiefs win the Super Bowl!" Brett does a small victory jig.
Unfortunately, only one spectator is in the stands to witness the Chiefs' triumphant moment, and he's a member of the grounds crew. He doesn't think the kick is any good at all. "Hey, get off the field," he shouts, not bothering to ask what a guy in a Kansas City Royals uniform is doing kicking field goals in the Coliseum on a Thursday morning in November. How was he supposed to know that the man down there had won the American League Most valuable Player award only two days before. All the groundskeeper knew was that the fool was trying to tear up the turf with only two days to go until the USC- UCLA game.
Fun time wasn't over, though. It never is for Brett. He had been brought by limo to the Coliseum so that he could pose for an upcoming soft-drink promotion, and he had transformed the photo session into a laugher by turning the tripod around and taking the photographer's picture. Yes, life imitates commercials. Now that the photo session and the Super Bowl are over, Brett gathers up the advertising people and says, "Let's go next door to the hockey movie."
Next door at the Los Angeles Sports Arena, a crew is filming the story of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team for an ABC-TV film. The day before, Brett had been on the set with his buddy, Steve Obradovich, who plays a bartender in the movie, and had struck up a friendship with Mike Eruzione, the hockey team's captain and a technical adviser for the film. The following day Brett wangles himself a part in the movie. "I'm going to be a Russian," he says delightedly. When asked if he can speak the language, he replies, "Yeah, Smirnoff and Popov." The movie people tell him to come back after lunch. After eating at Julie's, the Obradovich family restaurant, Brett returns to find that because shooting is behind schedule, he's to play a Finnish hockey player instead. He goes into the locker room as George Brett and comes out as No. 15, a fellow named Leinonen. Brett can skate O.K. for a barefoot boy from Hermosa Beach, and he has a grand time scoring at will from every conceivable angle—into an empty net—and riding other players into the boards. And though he makes $1 million a year playing for the Royals, he's excited about the actor's scale of $250 a day. "For contact, I get $350," he says. He even teaches the movie's star, Andrew Stevens, how to put a pinch between his cheek and gum.
Finally, the time arrives for Brett's scene. He's to lose a face-off in the corner. After three takes of about five seconds each, his acting career is over. He won't win an Emmy, and the movie won't be billed as " George Brett in Miracle on ice," but he has left the arena a happier place.
In the next 48 hours or so, Brett attends a night in his honor at Hollywood Park racetrack, plays golf at the Riviera Country Club and goes to a Los Angeles Laker game as the guest of the owner, Jerry Buss.
That has been his pace ever since the World series. Between Oct. 14 and Nov. 22 Brett personally showed his Morgan in a Kansas City horse show (finishing fifth in a field of nine), served as one of the commissioners of the Nine Ball world Pro Am tournament in Las Vegas, filmed a TV pilot with comedian Arte Johnson—a sort of Laugh-In with athletes, Brett describes it—played lots of golf, ate lots of banquet chicken, accepted umpteen awards and met one of his idols, Ernest Borgnine ("I've seen every McHale's Navy"). All this while bouncing between his playhouses in Lake Quivira, Kans. and Rancho Mirage, Calif. and living up to his responsibilities as a bachelor. Perhaps the highlight of that period was joining brother Ken and teammate Jamie Quirk as they helped their old friend, former USC and New York Jet Defensive Back Mike Battle, round up 160 head of cattle on Battle's ranch near Amarillo, Texas. "Rode 10 miles in one day, and that's when I found out my hemorrhoids were cured," says Brett. in the meantime, Kansas City Manager Jim Frey has been biting his nails. "Every time I pick up the dambed paper, there's George on top of a horse or on ice skates," says Frey. "Jeeeez!" If Brett's off-season seems like a fantasy, well, it's no more improbable than the baseball season he had preceding it. Had Jeane Dixon told Brett back in May, when he was hitting .247, that he'd come within five hits of batting .400 he'd have let out one of those funny little bird laughs of his. But he did just that, evoking memories of Ted Williams, John J. McGraw and Walt Dropo in the process. He also brought a rather painful condition out of the closet and singlehandedly cost the Yankee manager his job while reducing Rich Gossage, the 6'3", 217-pound New York reliever, to tears.
But before reliving that episode, let's savor Brett's regular-season statistics one more time. His .390 average was the best in the majors since Williams hit .406 in 1941 and nearly the equal of any third baseman's in history, McGraw having hit .391 in 1899 for the Baltimore Orioles, then of the National League. And with just a touch more luck, Brett would've batted .400. on May 10, for instance, against the Red Sox, he hit three screamers into the gloves of Shortstop Rick Burleson, First Baseman Tony Perez and Rightfielder Dwight Evans. Combine those with an extraordinary catch that A's Centerfielder Dwayne Murphy made against the wall in Kansas City on Sept. 21 and a lined shot that Ken Landreaux, the Minnesota centerfielder, caught on Oct. 3, and Brett would have hit .401.
He drove in 118 runs in 117 games, making him the first player since Dropo, who had 144 RBIs in 136 games for the' 50 Red Sox, to average at least one RBI a game. Brett's slugging percentage of .664 was the highest in the majors since Mickey Mantle's .687 in 1961. His on-base percentage of .461 led both leagues. He hit a career-high 24 home runs and struck out just 22 times, only three more than Baltimore's Rich Dauer, who had the league's fewest strikeouts.