- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
John only partly agrees, seeing his anger rooted more in family than in baseball. "Me and my dad didn't hit it off too great," he says, "but we always loved each other. We still do. But it seemed whatever I did, I always got the ration of crap. I got in a lot of scrapes growing up. I was the only one who did a lot of fighting in high school. Not gang fighting, but Mike Battle and I would go to a party, and if somebody would give us any trouble, here's Mike in a fight and I'm right alongside him. He was only like 170 pounds and about 5'11", but Mike would never back down, I don't care how big the guy was. I wasn't one to back down, either. And that's the way I guess my dad was when he was growing up. At least he kind of conveys that to us. It was kind of bad there for a while."
It seemed unfortunate, to those who knew him then, that John couldn't channel his aggressiveness into professional sports. His baseball career ended in 1968 at the Class A level in the Red Sox system—shortened by injury, a teen-age marriage and the responsibilities of raising an infant son. He admits that his release by Waterloo was a crushing disappointment. "It was real bad," he recalls. "That's probably the worst day of my life so far. I got hurt and I wasn't hitting good...and they released me. Looking back at it, I know I didn't have the talent. But I had the desire." He sighs. "I just came back home and went to work. Had to face life." His best friend, Battle, went to USC and became a wild-man kick-return specialist for the Super Bowl champion Jets in 1969 and '70—a workingman's folk hero, throwing elbows and straight-arms, bloodying noses, lunging into bone-crunching tackles on the dead run. Back home, John hammered nails on construction projects. Football provided an outlet for Battle's brawling tendencies; the El Segundo police attended to John's.
George is still the closest to John; Bobby and Ken imply a distance from their older brother that borders on alienation. George sees that distance as a consequence of John's occupation as a framing contractor. "He's married; he's got a wife and kids," George says. "He has obligations. He works from 6 a.m. till 4 p.m. and he's tired. But we"—the three wealthy, independent brothers who maintain a vacation retreat on a Palm Springs golf course—"...we can do anything we want. Go wherever we want. We'll say, 'Let's go to Las Vegas this afternoon.' " George looks frustrated. "But John can't. He thinks, 'The sonsabitches are going to Palm Springs for the weekend!' It's difficult to accept that."
"It's not that I can't afford to," John responds, pointing out that he and a business partner share a Palm Springs condo of their own in the same complex as the Brett bachelors, "but I've got 20 guys working for me and I just can't take off anytime I want. I'd love to. I've only been able to go there once with all of them during the week. It's hard to tell you how good a time it is. We're all out there drinking a couple of beers, hitting golf balls over condos and stuff. It's really fun." Instead, John gets to the job site at 6 a.m., about the hour work begins, and reads the sports pages, his eyes jumping from column to column for news of his brothers. "If Georgie does well that day or Kemer does good, I'm real happy," he says. "If they do bad, I'm kind of grumpy."
Trying to appraise John, Ken can't help citing the example of Battle. Recalling Battle's antics in the NFL, Ken says, "He used to eat glass, tear his clothes off in bars. But he's a real family man now, living out in the boonies in Texas. Two nice kids, a nice wife, doesn't touch a drop of alcohol. Mike's made a complete turnaround." Ken shrugs. "My brother hasn't." Ken offers the judgment in flat, settled tones, but he doesn't like to leave a false impression. "Don't think I don't care about my brother John," he adds with an earnest look. "I still do. John had a tough childhood. Dad was tough on him." Ken looks away. "But you can't be chasing something you're never going to catch."
Ken's chase has been more successful. His father's old scrapbooks sparkle with the names of rising young stars from the El Segundo area: basketball's Paul Westphal; Battle and Jim Obradovich in football; major-leaguers Dave LaRoche, McGregor, the Bretts. But Ken, now 32, was in a class by himself. "I've never seen a kid idolized the way Ken was," Jack says. Ken was the best hitter of the Brett brothers and started in the outfield when he wasn't pitching. He was a high school football star until he broke his leg his junior year, and he also played basketball. In 1964 he pitched a 10-0 no-hitter over New Orleans in the quarterfinals of the Babe Ruth World Series. Not one ball was hit out of the infield. Ken was a disciplined youngster, too, a good student. But shy and constrained.
Last spring Ken buttoned up his Hawaiian shirt in the deserted Royals clubhouse in Fort Myers, smiling at Bobby's memory of him as a 19-year-old World Series hero—a titan with a fancy car, beautiful girls at his elbow, money in his pocket. "Twenty dollars was a lot in those days," Ken said. "He didn't tell you that 10 days later I was in the Army and they forgot all about me." He slipped his feet into a pair of sandals. "That was a humbling experience. Those guys in the Army didn't care about the World Series. They wanted me in the kitchen with a shovel in my hand."
This is Ken's 14th major league season and the Royals are his 10th major league club. He has figured in trades involving 22 players and has been signed three times as a free agent. He sometimes sits by himself in the clubhouse with a vacant—or reflective—look, in the manner of veteran pitchers who have wasted too many days of their lives waiting for their next turn. But he looks no older than his famous younger brother, and the copy of Architectural Digest in his locker suggests that his travels have not put his mind to sleep. In big cities, he is known to favor the art galleries of a morning, and those who look past the strong family resemblance—he has been mistaken for, and interviewed as, George—note features slightly softer and a manner more reserved and introspective.
"I went right to spring training and started throwing the ball too hard," he said, recalling his return to civilian life in 1968. "I was young, trying to impress people. I wanted to stay with the Red Sox. But I wound up in Triple A and pitched eight innings the first time out." He shook his head ruefully. "I should have known better." In his second outing Ken lasted seven innings. "The next time," he said, "I couldn't throw 20 feet."
He pitched only 29 innings for Louisville in 1968, and forever after his left elbow would plague him, through surgery in 1974, through drug therapy, chiropractic manipulations and finally acupuncture. He would never win more than 13 games in a season (he was 13-9 in 1973 and '74 for Philadelphia and Pittsburgh). But when the pain abated, he showed the stuff that had inflamed the scouts: 155 strikeouts in 139 innings for the 1970 Red Sox; winning pitcher for the National League in the 1974 All-Star Game; 16 complete games and a 3.31 ERA for the 1976 White Sox. Still, it is hard not to think of his career as wasted. The emergence of George as a great hitter has been a poignant footnote to the career of Ken, who has logged only 347 at bats in the majors. The figures are tantalizing: a .262 batting average, 18 doubles, 10 home runs, 44 runs batted in. Ken holds just one major league record for a pitcher, and it's for hitting. As a Phillie, he once hit home runs in four consecutive games.