We’ve reached the dominant dozen! This countdown has taken longer than I ever expected (fatherhood will do that), but I’m happy we’re creeping into the good stuff.
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When you think of baseball, there aren’t many names that carry the nostalgia that “George Brett” does. What comes to mind? The pine tar? The relentless barrage of hits he unleashed for 21 years? His 1985 heroics? Or just simply one of baseball’s best players in that sharp, Royal Blue? No matter what you picture, Brett was a gift to the game and its fans from 1973 to 1993. In short, he was baseball Royalty.
At the age of 21 in 1974, George batted .282. He would not hit under .300 again until 1984. He quickly became one of baseball’s all-time most prolific line drive hitters. He led the league in hits in ’75 and ’76 (195 and .308 BA, 215 and .333, respectively), winning the batting title in 1976. While the power would not develop until later, he did pound out 13 triples in ’75 and 14 in ’76, both league bests. He would top these totals in 1979 with 20 triples, again best in the majors. In 1978 he led the league in doubles with 45.
In 1980, he threatened to join the ranks of baseball immortality, batting .390 in a valiant attempt to become the first .400 hitter since The Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams. That season he also got on base at a .454 clip, while slugging .664, thus giving him an an absurd 1.118 OPS in 449 at bats. Needless to say, Brett captured his second batting title that year. He also launched 24 homers and doubled 33 times en route to his only MVP award. The Royals, who had lost three straight American League Championship series from 1976 to 1978, returned to the show in ’80. All Brett did was post a 1.242 OPS against the Yankees, homering twice and helping the Royals capture the Pennant. Kansas City would lose to the Phillies in the World Series, despite Brett batting .375 in 24 at bats.
After his stellar ’80 campaign, Brett would bat over .300 six more times, including a .329 posting in 1990, when he won his third and final batting title at 37 years young. He led the league in slugging and OPS in 1983 (.563/.947) and again in 1985 (.585/1.022). In ’85, he also batted .335 and homered 30 times while driving in 112 runs. The 30 homers would be his career high, and his 9.4 WAR posted that season was also a career high.
In the last week of the ’85 season, Brett went 9-for-20 with five homers in six games, helping the Royals win the division. Once again, Brett’s star shined bright when it mattered most. In the ALCS against Toronto, he batted .348 with an on-base percentage of .500. He homered three times, including two in Game 3 alone. He put the Royals on his back offensively, helping them rise up from at 2-0 deficit to win the series in seven. Brett was awarded MVP honors for that series. They would go on to come back again in the World Series against the Cardinals, rising from a 3-to-1 deficit to win the first title in franchise history. Brett batted a measly .370, including four hits in Game 7. Had Bret Saberhagen not pitched two complete game victories, including the decisive Game 7, no doubt Brett would’ve captured MVP there as well.
Overall, Brett’s postseason stats are simply staggering. In 184 plate appearances, he batted .337 with a .397 OBP and a .627(!) slugging. He was an extra base machine, posting eight doubles, five triples, and ten homers.
His career would end with incredible numbers. .305 batting average. 3,154 hits. 665 doubles, good for sixth all-time. He homered 317 times and got on base at a .369 clip over 11,625 plate appearances. With 1,119 career extra base hits, Brett ranks 18th all-time. He’s the only player to win a batting title in three different decades.
He was also one of the most difficult strikeout victims of the modern era, suffering the fate only 7.8% of his plate appearances. Only two players (yet to be posted) can claim better. He never struck out more than 75 times in a season, and it wasn’t until he was 30 years old did he cross the 60 whiff mark for the first time. In 1977, he struck out a mind blowing 24 times in 627 trips to the plate.
In an easy decision for voters, Brett was elected to the Hall of Fame when first eligible in 1999.
George Brett is one of those great baseball players that reminds us how good the game can be. He played for one team his entire career, provided his greatest performances when it mattered most, and stands out as one of baseball’s bright spots across three different decades.
While it would be easy to post the link to the pine tar incident, we’ve all seen that a million times. Instead, here’s Brett doing what he did best, coming up big with that smooth swing.
The countdown gets pretty tough from here, and truly an argument could be made that Brett should be higher. However, the stats of the 11 guys above Brett are simply stellar. Brett has the third lowest home run total and the second lowest OPS. This is not a knock on him, simply a real look at the value of the players yet to be listed.
Stay tuned for #11, and thanks for reading!