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.' "
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
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
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
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."
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."
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
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."
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."