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Or like John, 34, for whom adolescence was a war zone. "John was never a real good student," Ken says. "He just liked to go out and fight. He was 6'2" and strong; he could clean your clock. But sometimes"—Ken grimaces, remembering the times his big brother came home bruised and bleeding—"...sometimes he'd just be destroyed. My father didn't like that. And I didn't want that." John, in particular, seemed to act out a kind of working-class rebellion, emulating the hard ways of the men who streamed in and out of the Standard Oil refinery gates.
"John's the craziest," agrees Jamie Quirk, George's Kansas City teammate and best friend. Quirk remembers a night in 1974 when some of the Brett tension spilled over on the sidewalk in front of an El Segundo bar. "It was the night before Thanksgiving and we were in George's area, where they grew up. We were out drinking and had started pretty early in the afternoon. At about eight o'clock George went to make a call at a pay phone right outside the bar, and his brother Johnny said, 'What are you doing? Where are you going?'
"George said, 'I'm going to call up this girl.' So he goes out. And Johnny didn't like it. He thought George was going to leave us and go with some chick, and he'd be left alone drinking. So it ended up in heated words and they actually started fighting." Quirk stops. "I tried to break it up, and I probably got beat up worse than those two."
John's fights, according to his brothers, have never been the type that end in a couple of glancing haymakers and a muttered apology. The El Segundo police, on this occasion, were summoned to corral the flailing and grunting brothers and haul the whole bunch to jail. "They put Johnny in one cell and George in another," Quirk says, "and asked me all the questions. So I call up Bobby, and Bobby comes down to the jail. This is like half an hour later.
"They go, 'O.K., we're going to release one of them. Which one do you want?'
"We go, 'O.K, give us George.' " Quirk begins to laugh. "And John is in the other cell going crazy. He's ready to kill Bobby, ready to kill George, he's ready to kill me!"
George doesn't challenge Quirk's memory. "We were in separate cells," he says, "but John was going to bend the bars to get at me. They wanted to let us out one hour apart." The next day, when John arrived for the family's Thanksgiving dinner, George began shadow-boxing, taunting his older brother. "I said, 'Come on! Come on! You're going down!' That's John's expression—'You're going down!' " What finally went down, once the family was gathered around the table, was the turkey.
"They've been that way their whole life," Quirk says, marveling at their fights and quick patchups. "They can be real crude to each other, real crude."
"John hasn't changed very much," Jack explains. "There's a natural pecking order in my family. John was the king and Ken was very mild. But when John wasn't around, Ken was the king. Whoever was the king would lord it over the others. There's a closeness between John and George because John always protected George. If he wasn't around and Bobby hit George, John would come home and hit Bobby. John would kick him in the rear end and say, 'Don't hit George. He's my brother and I love him.' John thought he could rule the roost. He still feels that way. He's big and strong. He feels that the others should listen to him."
"It's very hard to say why John's different," George says. "He has different ideas of fun." Some attribute the difference to a disturbance in the pecking order dating back to 1964, when John was the captain of his high school baseball team and younger brother Ken was the star. "Kemer was a little divisive within the family," Coach Stevenson says. "He was so good that you could see he was going to be a major league player. John was immediately known as Kemer's big brother, and it drove him crazy. It would come out if John had a bad day." Bobby concurs: "It wasn't like George ever stole my spotlight, but Ken stole the spotlight from John. And John didn't handle it too well."