As I awaited the beginning of St. Louis Cardinals' pitching prospect Michael Wacha’s MLB debut Thursday afternoon, the Kansas City Royals announced that they had hired Hall of Famer George Brett as assistant hitting coach to help aid their faltering offense.
I went down to gather some quotes from the press conference where they announced the move and was pleasantly surprised to listen to Brett field questions from a combination of St. Louis and Kansas City media.
Brett pulled no punches on the field, and he is treating his new job just the same.
So, why is a man who loves his golf, spending time with his family and is making the most of retirement coming back to work?
“Out of frustration,” he said. That simple sentence fragment likely echoes the sentiments of every Royals fan right now.
Brett said that just like everyone else, he was frustrated watching a team that he believes is filled with potential struggle to score runs.
There was no sugar-coating or concerns about political correctness—simply put, their offense was playing horribly.
Fortunately for them, George Brett is going to try to help and he’s brought his usual fire back with him.
That fire is something he plans to share, and they should welcome it with open arms.
As a player, Brett was known for his hustle. He ran out ground balls and always spoke up when he should.
There were no Bull Durham-style generic answers. If George Brett had a bad night, he’d say he screwed up.
There was no complaining about nagging injuries or pain, because in professional sports everyone plays through pain. It’s in the nature of all sports.
That’s exactly how he plans to handle his new role. With grit, blunt honesty and persistence.
“I know how hard this game is to play,” Brett said. “Every day I got to the ballpark I was scared to death. I didn’t know if I was going to go 0-for-4 or 4-for-4. I didn’t know if I would have two balls go through my legs or make an amazing play.”
Brett learned firsthand what it was like to be a young player with a bright future who simply couldn’t get things working. His goal is to do for the young players on the Royals team what Charlie Lau did for him.
He went so far as to say that he was going to be “Charlie Lau’s ghost.”
“I think we have young kids on our team that are having problems coping with the situation they are in right now,” Brett said. “I just want to come and share my life with them—how I got through things like this, how I became a more consistent player, how I became a leader of a ballclub and instill in them the passion that I played with. I think I can help them learn that.”
When a whole team goes south, he explained, everybody starts pressing a little bit trying to do more than they are capable of doing. They try to stretch the strike zone and get out of whack.
The key for Brett’s philosophy is to get them in their comfort range where they can have fun, be selective and drive the ball.
There is so much young players today could stand to learn from Brett about the value of hard work and the importance of being honest to others as well as yourself.
That is true for young players throughout MLB, not just in Kansas City.
Brett has never been one to sugarcoat things. If he had a great day, he took credit like all players should. If he has a bad day, he owned up to his mistakes.
He might not have been in the best mood, but he never passed the buck.
With the youth movement we’re seeing throughout baseball, specifically along the I-70 corridor in Missouri, players need to take notice of George Brett again.
Can he turn this franchise around? Who knows. But, if there’s anyone capable of energizing a group of exciting young players, it’s George Brett.
If it doesn’t work out, he’ll hit the road. He made that abundantly clear during the press conference.
“I don’t want Dayton [Moore] to have to fire me from the Kansas City Royals,” Brett said. “Hopefully, I’ll be here for awhile. I’m planning to be here for at least a month—hopefully more.”
He was quick to acknowledge that he believes today’s athletes are superior to him in several ways—size, athleticism and speed.
“They need somebody they can trust,” Brett said in a way only he can. I like to call it compassionate grit.
He may have been speaking about the Royals players, but there is a lot to learn from not just Brett’s words but from how he handles himself and his team. He expects a lot, but what he teaches will come from the heart.
Young players could learn a lot from watching George Brett.
"I’ve never backed down from a challenge,” he said.
That’s a mentality baseball could use a little more of today.
All quotes obtained firsthand by the author.