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John Garrity
August 17, 1981
Jack Brett didn't ask too much of his four sons as they grew up—only that they be the best there was in everything they ever did
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August 17, 1981

Love And Hate In El Segundo

Jack Brett didn't ask too much of his four sons as they grew up—only that they be the best there was in everything they ever did

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If George had a bad game. Jack would drive him home in icy silence. "Jack was moody," concedes Scott McGregor, who so often stole the limelight from his teammate George, and later became a 20-game winner for the Orioles. "He walked around a lot during a game. One time he'd say 'hi' to you and the next time he'd walk right past you. He was hard on his kids, very intense." McGregor shrugs. "But my dad pushed me, too. That's the way of life in El Segundo." According to his sons, though, Jack was an unusually vocal father. "He was very protective," Ken remembers. "If people were getting on us for playing bad, Dad would go over and threaten them. He'd say, 'I'm gonna kill you.' "

But he was toughest on his kids, and sometimes his perfectionism transcended reason. "One of the things I resented about my dad," John says, "was I didn't think he knew what he was talking about. He was in the service and he played a little softball, but he didn't know——about baseball. He might think he's a connoisseur of baseball right now, but I still think he doesn't know——. When I see my dad at the baseball game and Georgie's playing, I can stand next to him, but if Kemer's pitching and they're hitting Kemer...well, even if you don't know my dad, you don't ever want to stand next to him. That's how bitter he is. I mean, he thinks it's a piece of cake going out there and throwing the ball by Rod Carew or somebody. Which isn't so. I think if he had played, he'd understand a little more."

The Brett brothers' coach at El Segundo, John Stevenson, knows Jack Brett well. Stevenson's hair is fading from blond to white now—he was 31 years old when John captained his El Segundo team—and he walks with the upright bearing of the veteran baseball man. He would look as comfortable managing the Yankees as he does managing his perennial championship high school teams. "I think there was fear of wasting their talents," Stevenson said one spring night in the press box behind home plate at Rec Park. "I can tell you—he really loved those kids." The scourges of drugs and alienation had begun to frighten parents in the late '60s, and El Segundo, despite its physical isolation, its Shangri-La quality, suffered the same generation conflict that pained the nation. "I remember Jack called up Kemer once after seeing him on TV. He said"—Stevenson mimicked Jack's sharp voice, squinting—" 'Cut your hair!' " He leaned back in his chair, smiling. "Have you noticed Jack's appearance? Shoes always shined. Clothes always right." He laughed and shook his head. "George used to drive him crazy. T shirt, shoes with no socks."

It figures, then, that George, of all the brothers, most resented Jack's protectiveness. "I hated my dad," he says flatly. "He'd say, 'Bobby wouldn't do this,' or 'Kemer wouldn't do that.' I was intimidated. I was scared to death of him." More than once George has told this story: how he struck out twice in one game and endured that short but painful drive up Mariposa with a silent, furious father behind the wheel. "I remember I got out of the car in my uniform, my head hanging," George says, "and the next thing I felt was a foot coming right up my ass! For embarrassing the family." George shakes his head. "That's probably where I got my hemorrhoids."

"My dad maybe treated George a little bit different," Bobby says. "Ken was a good student, a model kid. And basically Dad had no problems with me; he knew I was going to make it. He was harder on George. George couldn't do anything right for him." Bobby shrugs. "But George was lazy, lacked motivation. If he hadn't made it in baseball, he might have had some problems. George needed somebody to get on his butt a lot."

"Did my dad tell you about his childhood?" George retorts.

"I had a good childhood," Jack Brett says very deliberately. "I had an excellent childhood. I was born in 1923, in Brooklyn. We never lacked for anything. My father was a 'Chief Clerk' on Wall Street and got paid well, which at that time was $40 or $50 a week. That's when other people were making $20 a week or not making anything at all. We always lived in a very nice house and my mother was never allowed to have hamburger for dinner. It was chicken or steak or roast beef or leg of lamb. He insisted on that.

"He sort of left me alone. He never wanted me to work and he always made sure I had money in my pocket. Money was, like, 50�." Baseball? Jack chuckles. "I never made the team," he says. "I always liked the Yankees. I always hated the Dodgers.

"I quit high school and went to work in a factory, in a very large machine shop. And when I was 18 the war came along and I joined the Army, and I was in the Army till 1945. I had been wounded—shot in the leg in France. Afterward, I went to Pace College in New York and got a degree in business administration. I got married in 1945 and began to do well as an accountant. John was born in Brooklyn. Ken, too. Bobby. But George was born in West Virginia...."

"He used to steal cars," George says, sounding more amused than judgmental. "He used to get in a lot of scrapes. I think he just didn't want us to be like him."

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