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Jack says, "When he was 21 and wasn't doing too well, I said, 'Ken, why don't you tell 'em you want to play the outfield?' And he said, 'I'd have to go back to the minors and start over again.' I asked him again much later, and he said, 'It's my pride now. I want to do well as a pitcher.' "
Ken also said he can appreciate the irony that he, who had once overshadowed his older brother, John, now has seen his glories dimmed by the feats of little brother George. Fortunately, he has had time to get used to it. He remembered George's first playoff game, Game 1 of the 1976 American League championship series. Billy Martin, the Yankee manager who had traded Ken to the White Sox earlier in the season, yelled, "Your brother's a——!" when George came to the plate in the fourth inning. George stared into the Yankee dugout, shocked. Then he stepped into the box and rifled a Catfish Hunter pitch into rightfield for a single. In the seventh inning, Martin again yelled, "Your brother's a——!" and Brett ripped another single. In the ninth, Brett singled hard again. "Your brother's a——!" Martin yelled.
"Every time I came to bat," said a dejected George, sitting in the clubhouse after the Royals had lost 4-1. "That's really high class, really a tribute to baseball." But when a reporter asked if his desire to beat the Yankees was enhanced because of their treatment of his brother, George just shook his head. "If I had a grudge against every team that traded my brother," he replied, "I'd have a grudge against every team in baseball."
Four summers later, while George was launching his assault on the .400 barrier and getting his uniform dirty in Lifebuoy commercials, Ken found himself out of baseball, tanning himself by his Hermosa Beach, Calif. condominium. "I thought it was over," he admits, reflecting on his springtime (1980) release by the Los Angeles Dodgers. "I hurt my arm pretty bad on March 12th, and on March 27th they released me." The hammer had fallen fast and heavy, he thought, considering his 30 relief appearances, 4-3 record and 3.45 ERA for the Dodgers in 1979. "I know this is a business," he says. "Still, you can show compassion, and I thought they'd done it the wrong way. If you're going to tell a girl you don't love her, you don't tell her, 'Get out of my life.' " Still, he had tried to face the future realistically. "My arm was legitimately injured. It was hanging on. I was tired of knocking on people's doors, so I laid on the beach all summer, not doing anything baseball-wise. I jogged. But I didn't look at a box score. Didn't want to." With rest, his elbow healed, and when the Royals, starved for lefthanded pitching, made their offer on Aug. 18, Kemer accepted. He pitched in a minor league uniform, for Omaha, for the first time in over a decade, and then it was a repeat of his rookie season with the Red Sox: Brought up by the Royals for a late-season look, he pitched 13 innings without giving up a run and earned a place on the roster for the playoff's and World Series.
But this time he didn't pitch. He was in the bullpen, looking up, when George's pennant-winning homer off Goose Gossage landed in the upper rightfield tier of Yankee Stadium. He betrayed no jealousy; he seemed grateful just to be in uniform that night to share George's happiness. "I think you can ask any older player," he says. "The older they get, the more they enjoy the game." For Ken, just shagging balls in the outfield and pitching batting practice were pleasures borrowed against time. He looks thoughtful. "It probably borders on love."
Ken smooths his hair back. "I look in the mirror sometimes and say, 'I'm 32 years old and I've never worked a day in my life.' "
There is work. And there is work.
The vista from Bobby Brett's office window is one of blue ocean and a curve of rocky coastline sweeping north and west from Hermosa Beach, some of the most expensive real estate in the world. He dresses casually, talks briskly and sprinkles his business calls with the dialogue of screenplay wheeler-dealers: "He came in fair...a million-one, a million-two...what's the asking?..." Bobby manages George's and Ken's financial holdings, and surrounds himself with young and attractive associates who dress well, live well and know how to do deals. But he made his own fortune first. "I didn't know what I was doing," he says, revealing the distinctive Brett gap in his teeth (though George has had his capped). "I started in real-estate investment in the summer of 1975, and I went in cold turkey." His own bid for baseball stardom had stalled in 1972 at the Class A level of the Royals organization, and he couldn't see wasting a decade in dimly lighted ball parks and creaking buses. "I said, 'If I don't move up a league every year, I better hang it up.' They had guys that were younger than me, who were bigger, stronger, faster"—his eyebrows shoot up—"and got money to sign." He shrugs. "It wasn't the end of the world."
Bobby taught for a year at a predominantly black high school—"I envisioned myself as a coach"—but suffered from classroom frustration and student harassment, including sugar in his car's gas tank. "I wasn't really qualified to do anything," he confesses. So he turned to real estate. In a few short years he had traded in his old car for a Mercedes 450SEL, his old digs for a $350,000 condominium on the beach, and his old—well, he would trade almost anything.