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Ken Brett

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Ken Brett

A photo of Ken Brett.

Kenneth Alven ("Kemer") Brett (September 18, 1948 - November 18, 2003) was a Major League Baseball pitcher and the oldest of four Brett brothers who played professional baseball, the most notable being George Brett.

Although born in Brooklyn, Ken Brett grew up in southern California and was a legendary athlete in El Segundo, a modest suburb of Los Angeles, just south of LAX airport. At age 17, he was the fourth overall pick in the 1966 baseball draft, selected by the Boston Red Sox as a pitcher; the 23 other MLB teams coveted him as a sweet-swinging center fielder.

1967 World SeriesEdit

Just fifteen months later the left-handed Brett was called up to the major leagues from Single-A ball, participating in the final week of a heated American League pennant race in September 1967. Boston won the league title by defeating the Minnesota Twins on the final day of the season, finishing a single game ahead of both Detroit and Minnesota, and three games ahead of Chicago. Brett was not expected to be on the post-season (World Series) roster to face the St. Louis Cardinals, but was added as an emergency replacement for an injured Sparky Lyle, a transaction requiring the commissioner's approval.

Days later on October 8th, Ken Brett became the youngest pitcher ever in the World Series, appearing in relief in Game 4. He pitched a scoreless eighth inning, yielding just a walk. In Game 7, he entered the game with the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning and induced Tim McCarver to ground out to the first baseman to end the inning. At just 19 years (& three weeks), he gave up no hits in 1-1/3 scoreless innings in his two appearances.[1]

"Nothing ever fazed him. We had no hesitation about putting him on the World Series roster, none at all," recalled Dick Williams, Boston's rookie manager that year. "He had the guts of a burglar."

1968-81Edit

Shortly after the 1967 World Series, Brett spent six months in the Army reserves, missed spring training in 1968 and, in his first Triple-A outing back, was left on the game for nine innings. He developed arm trouble and endured a couple of surgeries, and what had promised to be a special career evolved into something less than that. He would later state that the worst curse in life is unlimited potential.

Although a much-traveled pitcher who played for 10 MLB teams over a 14-year career, Ken Brett did have remarkable career moments. He was the winning pitcher of the 1974 All-Star Game, where he was the only member of the host team Pittsburgh Pirates on the National League squad. Earlier that year on May 27, 1974, Brett held the San Diego Padres hitless into the ninth inning before settling for a 2-hit shutout win in the first game of a doubleheader. In the second game he had a pinch-hit triple to help the Pirates sweep.

Two years later on May 26, 1976, while pitching for the visiting White Sox, he had a no-hitter going with two out in the ninth in a scoreless game against the California Angels. Jerry Remy's slow roller down the third base line was allowed to roll unplayed by Jorge Orta and amid some controversy, was scored a hit rather than an error. Brett pitched 10 innings and won the game 1-0, in 11 innings. (box score [2]).

Throughout his career, Brett was best known as an outstanding hitting pitcher, perhaps the best of his era. In 347 career at bats, he recorded 91 hits (29 for extra bases), yielding a .262 batting average and slugged an impressive .406. He hit 18 doubles, 1 triple, and 10 home runs with 44 RBI. While with the Philadelphia Phillies in 1973, he hit a home run in four consecutive pitching starts (from June 9 to June 23). In his All-Star year of 1974 with the Pirates, he hit a remarkable .310 (27 for 87), appearing in 43 games (27 as a starting pitcher and 16 as pinch hitter). This .310 batting average was higher than 6 of the 8 starting position players on the Pirates in 1974, a team that won the National League Eastern division title.

Ken Brett was a fan favorite for a couple of reasons. He didn't possess an outstanding fastball (following his arm trouble in 1968), but he worked hard on the mound and got by with guts and good location. Second, he was a terrific hitter for a pitcher, and fans love a pitcher who can swing a bat.

"I took a lot of pride in my ability to hit," he said. "In high school, I was also an outfielder and a pretty good hitter. I always thought my being able to hit helped me in games, and I pinch-hit a lot for pitchers, although there were a couple times in Pittsburgh when I hit for Kurt Bevacqua. He didn't like that much. I never took extra batting practice or anything like that. On days when I pitched, I'd get my swing in during batting practice."

Following the 1975 season, Brett played primarily for teams in the American League, which had instituted the designated hitter in 1973. This significantly limited his at bats in the second half of his career, not only as a starting pitcher, but also as a pinch hitter. In 1978 with the California Angels Brett transitioned to relief pitching.

In 1979, he returned to the National League as a reliever with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Manager Tommy Lasorda was an admirer of Ken Brett's hitting ability and once remarked that "if we'd drafted him, we'd have put him in center field and he'd have stayed there."

Ken Brett had a quick wit and was something of a clubhouse jokester. He served up Hank Aaron's 700th home run on July 21, 1973, while with the Phillies. "I won the game, so it didn't matter that much to me," Brett said. "Aaron gave me an autographed picture the next day, and I stood there and tore it up in mock anger. I always took the game seriously, but I also had a good time playing it."

At the end of his career, Brett and his youngest brother George were teammates on the Kansas City Royals. Ken was added to the Royals roster in August 1980, the year the Royals finally won the American League pennant and George hit .390 and was the AL MVP.

"I'll never forget the first time he came on in relief for the Royals," George recalled. "The bullpen was out in right field and they opened up the gate, and he came running in like an airplane -- arms spread out like wings, banking left, banking right, banking left and banking right. I'm on the mound with Jim Frey, our manager, and Jamie Quirk, who I'd played with for years and was Ken's dear friend. And I looked at Jamie and he looked at me, and I said, 'Now I know why he's been traded 10 times.' "

This was a minor exaggeration. It was his tenth major league team, but in his nine team changes Ken had been traded a mere six times, and released the last three.

Ken Brett had also played on several minor league teams. [3] He wore his frequent change of uniforms as both a badge of honor and a badge of humor. In a commercial for Miller Lite beer in 1984, he raised a glass in a salute to the town he thought he was in, only to be told he was not in that town. He spun through his mental rolodex and named every major and minor league town he could think of. The punchline -- "Utica?" -- curiously led to a minor league manager's job.

Post-playing careerEdit

Brett was released by the Royals following the 1981 season, and retired from baseball at the young age of 33. He had a career record of 83-85, with an ERA of 3.93 in 349 games, with 184 starts and 51 complete games. He served as a minor league manager in Utica in 1985, then worked as a broadcaster, providing color commentary for the Seattle Mariners in 1986, then the California Angels for the next eight years. Brett then coached baseball at the collegiate level, and co-owned minor league baseball and hockey teams and a sporting goods company in Spokane, his home since 1998, with his brothers John, Bobby, & George Brett.

Ken Brett, age 55, died on November 18, 2003 in Spokane, after a six year battle with brain cancer, which included two operations. He is survived by his wife and their twins (daughter & son). He is also survived by his three younger brothers (John, Bobby, & George), and their families. His mother Ethel died 8 months later in July 2004; his father Jack died in 1992.


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