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George Brett on Futures Game, Designated Hitters and Stand Up 2 Cancer

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George Brett on Futures Game, Designated Hitters and Stand Up 2 Cancer
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
George Brett was the 2012 All-Star Game's official ambassador.

If there was a face for the 2012 MLB All-Star Game in Kansas City, it was Royals Hall of Famer George Brett.

Brett served as the official ambassador for All-Star festivities throughout the weekend. His duties included managing the U.S. team in Sunday's Futures Game. But above all, he made numerous appearances during All-Star weekend to help raise money for charity. Brett is also involved with MasterCard and their fund-raising efforts for Stand Up 2 Cancer.

With their "Dine and Be Generous" program, MasterCard will make a donation to SU2C every time someone spends $10 or more on a meal with their card between July 10 and Sept. 28, contributing up to $4 million. As you'll read, it's a charity that has a personal meaning for Brett. 

Proving that Brett talked to everyone leading up to the All-Star Game, he even spoke with me. We talked about his role with the Futures Game and the Royals' prospects that were involved, what the All-Star Game meant to Kansas City and what rule he would like to change in baseball. I hope you enjoy our conversation. Thanks for reading.

 

You managed the U.S. Team in the Futures Game on Sunday...

Yes, sir, I did. I loved it.

 

It was your second time doing so. Besides the fact that the game took place in Kansas City (on top of all the other responsibilities you have this week with the All-Star Game), what is the appeal of managing this game for you?

Well, I had the opportunity to do it in Detroit [in 2005]. Out of the clear blue, Major League Baseball called me and said we'd love for you to manage the game in Detroit, and I'm going “Detroit?” And I said, well, Kansas City hasn't had an All-Star Game since '73. You never know if we're going to have one there.

So I said, sure, that'll be fun. I went there and met all my players the day of the game, and had a wonderful time doing it.

Then when Major League Baseball announced last year that Kansas City was going to host the All-Star Game this year, I didn't know they had ambassadors to All-Star Games. But they named me the ambassador, and I thought that would get me a good seat at the game and that's about it.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
George Brett and Bernie Williams were the managers of the Futures Game.

Unfortunately, I was wrong on that category. A lot of responsibilities came with that. Managing the Futures Game was one of them. It was a lot of fun [Sunday].

Kansas City is supporting the All-Star Game like no other city thus far, in my opinion. We had 40,000 people for the Futures Game. The stadium holds 40,000 people. There was a slow-pitch game afterwards. Some Hall of Fame baseball players, some movie stars, some country-western singers, and people like that. We had 35,000 people stay for that.

I mean, it was incredible. Stayed for a slow-pitch game in a baseball stadium with a temporary fence in the outfield. It was crazy.

To be a part of that and help represent the Kansas City Royals' organization, to help represent Kansas City, where I've lived my adult life. Growing up in southern California, being drafted by the Royals and playing 20 years here, and continuing to live here after my playing career, it's a thrill for me to help show off our city and our ballpark. It was a blast. Loved every minute of it.

Well, I can't say every minute. We were losing 4-0 going into the bottom of the third. But we ended up winning, 17-5, so the last six innings were a lot of fun. [Laughs]

 

How much has baseball changed as far as the attention these minor league prospects get now? The Futures Game was on ESPN2. We can follow these guys on MiLB.com and check their stats on Baseball-Reference. How do you think you would've handled that kind of attention when you were coming up through the minors?

Well, you handle it the same way. You see yourself in the newspaper, you thought that was a big deal. But these kids have grown up with this social media craze—Twitter, Facebook, all that stuff. They know how to work computers better than we do. Let's face it.

Jamie Squire/Getty Images
Royals prospect Jake Odorizzi started for the U.S. team in the Futures Game.

It's probably fun for them. They get to follow their friends, they get to look up their stats on the computer. We never knew our stats, we never knew our on-base percentage and all these new statistics that they've come out with, like BABIP.

Every time I sit with our general manager at a baseball game, and there's number-cruncher and statistician guy—I'm sitting around—they start talking about stuff, and I say, “What's that? I've never heard of that one before.”

But it was a lot of fun. The fans in Kansas City knew more about the three gentlemen we had playing in the game. We had the starting pitcher for the World team [Yordano Ventura]. We had the starting pitcher for our team, Jake Odorizzi. And we had the right fielder—then I moved him to center field—Wil Myers. You should've heard the ovations these kids got, all three of them.

We were the only team in Major League Baseball with three representatives in the game itself. The ovations they got were incredible. And they all did extremely well, which was great. With social media now, people are aware of these kids before they get to the big leagues.

When I came to the big leagues, nobody ever heard of George Brett before. Maybe the people in Billings, Montana or San Jose, California, the minor league towns I played in. Obviously, they heard of me. Omaha, Nebraska—they heard of me. But you get to Kansas City, you're a relative unknown.

Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Royals fans are already well aware of outfield prospect Wil Myers.

Now these guys get to the big leagues and you know everything about them because of MiLB, Baseball Tonight, the draft's on TV now. It's pretty incredible. Every day at Royals games, they show highlights of minor league baseball. Guess what? Those are the future Royals.

In between innings, they'll put a thing up there—last night in northwest Arkansas, last night in Omaha, last night in Wilmington. They show highlights of the game on the Jumbotron. So people are aware now of what these guys are doing in the minor leagues. Then when they get here, fans have already heard of them and made them their favorites already.

Wil Myers, who's never played one game in the major leagues, went to Fan Fest two days ago and had the biggest line of anybody there. There's Hall of Famers signing autographs, but more people were in Wil Myers' line than anybody else's. That's pretty impressive.

 

Could you tell us about your involvement with Mastercard? More specifically, your role with Stand Up 2 Cancer and the “Dine and Be Generous” Campaign?

Well, part of my responsibilities as ambassador for the All-Star Game is doing a lot of charity work.

I've been around with Tim Brosnan [executive vice president, business] from Major League Baseball. Today I was with Bud Selig and David Glass, the chairman of the board for the Kansas City Royals, and we've gone around to give millions of dollars away to needy people, to charities. Yesterday, I was at a race at seven o' clock in the morning. Over 8,000 runners participated, and it was for Stand Up 2 Cancer.

Rick Diamond/Getty Images
George Brett is also involved with the Stand Up 2 Cancer charity.

Mastercard asked me a ways back if I would do some work for them, and I said 'sure, that's a no-brainer. I'd love to do it.' Mainly because cancer has affected so many people. I don't know anybody who hasn't been affected by it, who doesn't know somebody like their mother, their father, a friend, a neighbor, someone who's died of cancer. 1,500 Americans die every day from cancer.

I lost my father to cancer. I lost a brother in the prime of his life. His kids were juniors in high school when he passed away. One of the last things I remember him telling me when I went to visit him was, “I just want to live long enough to see my kids graduate high school and see what college they go to.” He was unable to do that; cancer took his life.

So when you've had two family members die of cancer, it becomes pretty important to you. Mastercard asked me if I would promote their new program—it starts July 10, ends September 28. Cardholders, if they spend more than $10 on a meal, Mastercard's going to match up to $4 million to Stand Up 2 Cancer to try to find a cure.

Well, that was a no-brainer for me. I'm very happy to do it. It's made my days a little bit longer, but it's well worth the effort. Because it does mean something to me, and it means something to every American out here. This is not only in America, this is all over the world. To strike out cancer all over the world, wouldn't that be something? For Mastercard to get this involved, it shows what a great company they are.

 

One other question, and I hope this isn't too wacky. A few weeks ago, our staff was discussing rules we'd like to change in baseball, and the one I kept coming back to was the intentional walk. I grew up a Tigers fan, and it would drive even me nuts when Sparky Anderson would just put you on first base instead of pitching to you. What's a rule you would like to see changed or how do you feel about the intentional walk?

I don't mind it at all. If there was no intentional walks, the guy would just walk him anyway, unintentionally intentionally walk him.

You see a lot more of that than what meets the eye. Let's see if we can get this guy to swing at four sliders a foot outside. Maybe he'll swing at one of them and foul it off or put it play on a weak ground ball. But there are a lot more of those types of walks than intentional walks. Or it's about the same amount. Believe me when I say that.

Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
George Brett favors using the DH in both leagues.

If I was going to make one rule change, I would bring the DH in the National League. Mainly because, when I was a kid, you got to watch a baseball game on television, which was once every Saturday with Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. That was the Game of the Week. Nowadays, there's a game every night, every major league team televises 150, 155, 162 ballgames.

When I was playing minor league baseball or major league baseball, and it was the bottom of the third inning, and the announcer said we have the catcher, the pitcher and the leadoff guy coming up. I knew I wasn't going to miss anything; that's when I'd go take a shower.

You're not going to miss anything. The first guy gets on, the pitcher's going to bunt him over, the leadoff guy gets a single, but the runner's on second so he's not going to score. So that gives you five, six, seven minutes to go shower, get out of the bathroom, come back and watch the next guy hit.

Rather than watch a guy like Carl Yastrzemski, rather than watch the great DHs of today, to watch these pitchers go up there with their feeble swings, nobody on base, they have no chance to get a hit. 90 percent of them.

So that's what I'd like to change. I think people like offense. Obviously, the DH creates a lot more offense. I'm an offensive-minded guy.

 

You put pitchers at risk of getting injured, too.

I'm still a coach for the Royals in spring training only, so I go to the games. Sometimes the National League manager will say, go ahead and use your DH in our ballpark. We don't care. We're going to let our pitcher hit because he needs the practice.

Then you get near the end of spring training, all of a sudden, they want to play a real game. So they ask if your pitcher can hit today. And you say, well, we'd really prefer him not to. They say, well, we're going to make him hit. You're playing in our ballpark. So we're going to make him hit.

Gregory Shamus/Getty Images
Bunting is not George Brett's favorite part of the game.

OK, fine. Our pitchers are instructed, don't even swing. You are not allowed to swing the bat. Because they don't want him to pull a rib cage muscle, they don't want him to get hurt. So they tell him to just go up there and just stand there. Well, that's no fun. That's no fun to watch.

So if you had a DH in both leagues, I think it would be fun. You get to keep guys who maybe have a knee injury. I played one more, two more years. I DH'ed the last year-and-a-half of my career because I had five major knee injuries. I was hobbled. I wore a brace from my ankle up to my crotch almost, because my knee was so bad.

If I had to go out and play a position, I might not have been able to play those last two years. I would've done it, but it would've been really painful. It gives guys that sacrifice their body and play a lot of games on AstroTurf a chance to continue their career and reach milestones they wouldn't have had a chance to. It's a lot more enjoyable than watching the pitchers hit.

 

I can't imagine not watching Paul Molitor or Dave Winfield later in their careers.

Paul Molitor—a Hall of Fame baseball player—he couldn't stay healthy. Finally, the Milwaukee Brewers just said, screw it, you're done playing in the field. You're going to DH. He ended up getting 3,300 hits, just hitting. And he was a great defensive player. But he just couldn't stay healthy, couldn't play the field.

Dave Winfield, same way. Reggie Jackson, same way. Harmon Killebrew, same way.

I love the DH. I think it's a lot of fun. And it takes a lot of managing out of the game for the manager. [Laughs] OK, we're not going to bunt here. We're going to swing. American League teams don't bunt very often. National League teams bunt a lot.

 

OK, I know you have other interviews to do today. Thank you so much for your time, George.

Hey, nice talking to you.

 

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