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LOVE AND HATE IN EL SEGUNDO
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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"John and George are very much alike," Jack muses. "Probably the big difference between them is that John will work very hard. John's the sort who would say, 'Come on, let's get it done. Let's keep at it.' Where George would never do that. George would say, 'Let's sit down and rest for a while.' "

Comparisons like that were always being made between George, now 28, and one of his brothers. Jack, who wielded comparisons like a whip and instilled a burning competitiveness in his sons, isn't apologetic. "Maybe I neglected George," he says. "I don't think I pushed him into sports so much, although I thought that would be his one salvation." Jack throws up his hands. "Because when you can't read, when you can't write...when you don't have those skills developed to the point of other children of the same age...the parent begins to say, 'Well, what the hell can this kid do?' We used to just sit there, look at him and say, 'Poor George.' " Jack's voice drops to a whisper. " 'Poor George. What's going to happen to him?' 'Cause he took shop and phys ed. Auto mechanics. No hard courses. Ken took four years of Spanish, four years of English, four years of biology. He would devote his time to study. Nobody had to prompt him. With George—oh God, it was an issue daily. It was always, 'George, did you do your homework?' And he'd say, 'I have no homework.' " Jack sniffs. "He probably didn't. He was taking shop.

"Of course, I hear him talk now and I'm very proud of him. He was a late bloomer. His baseball skills developed continuously, and so did his mind. I think he's very honest. Very open." Jack looks thoughtful. "He doesn't hold back."

One afternoon at Fort Myers, George leaned back in his reclining chair in the clubhouse and recalled how his father's perfectionism had haunted him into adulthood. "I called him up once from New York," George said, staring up at the ceiling in an unconscious parody of the psychoanalytic posture. "My brother was with the Pirates then, playing a doubleheader in San Diego. I think Kemer won the first game and got a hit. Then he pinch-hit and tripled off the wall in the second game. So my dad said, 'Get any hits today?' I said, 'No.' He says, 'George, your brother's a pitcher and he's outhitting you.' And he started screaming at me on the phone." George made a face. "I just hung up the phone. Then I threw the phone against the wall, tore it out of the wall. I went and slugged the full-length mirror. Shattered it! Threw a chair against the wall. Buck Martinez was my roommate then, and poor Buck didn't know what to say." George shook his head bitterly. "He made constant comparisons. I wasn't as good as my brothers. I never would be as good as my brothers."

Of course, George didn't know that Jack was telling his other sons that George was the best ballplayer in the family. It didn't serve Jack's purpose to let his youngest son become complacent, to allow him to coast for a while on his achievements.

"I knew George when he was eight years old," says Coach Stevenson. When the high school team plays at night at Rec Park, the little brothers of the varsity players romp in the half-light on the neighboring Little League field—chasing foul balls, tackling each other, playing catch with oversized gloves. Stevenson watched all four Brett boys chase around like that, yelling shrilly and laughing, punching and wrestling each other till the tears came. "I'd watch George running around the park here, swinging the bat," Stevenson continues. "They used to call him Lou. When he came in as a ninth-grader, he was only 5'1" and 105 pounds, and the JV coach back then had a team of 10th, 11th-graders. He wanted to cut George. I said, 'You can't cut him.' He said, 'He's just so small.' But the next year George started on his varsity. John was exactly the same. As a ninth-grader he was tiny, and as an 11th-grader he was a hulk."

Because George was almost cut from his high school team—the story has made the rounds in magazine articles, with George gaining about five pounds per article until he is remembered as a roly-poly kid—outsiders seize on the notion that he was a mediocre player. This makes it hard to explain why the Royals picked him in the second round of the 1971 free-agent draft, or why the ambidextrous youngster, as a senior, was allowed to pitch both ways in the ninth inning of a prep All-Star Game and retired the side. It was the comparison to Ken that dimmed George's early luster, some say, and the suspicion that he lacked intensity. "I thought George was the third-best player on his team," Bobby says, naming Scott McGregor as the obvious standout. Six players from George's 1971 high school team, which went 33-2, played pro ball. "The highest George ever hit in high school was .351," Bobby says, "which isn't great for high school." Jack, when asked if he suspected back then that his youngest son would one day be a star, answers quickly, "Oh, no. Not at all."

Stevenson disagrees. "He was a great player. He wasn't mediocre. That's bull." But even Stevenson has to admit, "He wasn't as intense a player as he is now."

Jack smiles at that. "Kemer was probably a hundred times more intense. Before a game, he would become almost morose. He'd drift off, thinking only about the game. George?-George would be thinking about going down to the beach. Baseball was just something to do because all the other guys were doing it."

Comparisons were unavoidable, Jack says. "If George wasn't eager, he was, compared to John. If he wasn't smart, he was compared to Bobby. And if he wasn't smooth, he was compared to Kemer."

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