Becoming George Brett

Scouts struck gold in little-known shortstop from Southern California named George Brett

Updated: 2013-08-02T17:14:18Z


The Kansas City Star

As the scouts held their mass vigils, young George Brett came to know them more by faces than names.

“I’d see the same guys in the stands all the time,” he said. “I’d see them talking to my dad all the time, but I really didn’t get to know them.”

Just the same, he came to have a fair handle on their names.

There was Joe Stephenson of the Boston Red Sox, Brett remembers, and that once Stephenson brought to a practice Neil Mahoney, the organization’s farm director.

About two weeks before the 1971 draft, someone came around from the San Francisco Giants — “George Genovese, or something, I think.” And, yes, Genovese was right.

Brett didn’t know who the Angels guy was that showed up, but “I think there was a guy from the Reds named Barton,” he recalls, and probably it was Larry Barton.

“And Rosey, of course,” Brett said.

That one he knew with conviction. That one was the charismatic Rosey Gilhousen, then the Royals’ West Coast scouting supervisor.

Gilhousen made an indelible impression on most anybody he met: “a flamboyant individual … a kingpin with the (California) Angels … a Hollywood guy; he knew the stars,” said Art Stewart, in his 44th year with the Royals.

And though Gilhousen died in 1997, he lives forever within Brett, who cited him on the occasion of Brett’s induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999.

“Rosey Gilhousen, the scout that signed me,” Brett said in Cooperstown, “who called the Kansas City Royals and said, ‘You know I (have) this little skinny shortstop, 5-10, 165 pounds, and his brother Ken’s a pretty good player in the big leagues.

“ ‘You know, I think this guy’s got a pretty good chance to be a pretty good player.’ And Rosey Gilhousen convinced the Royals to draft me.”

For any number of reasons, it might well have played out differently, starting with the quirks and limitations of scouting itself.

“They’re all sitting there, and they’ve all got stopwatches and they’ve all got notepads,” Brett said during a June interview. “And all they’re doing is just writing everything down, and they go home, and they compile it.

“And they jump in a car, and they go drive two hours and go to another game. And then they take notes. You just hope you do something that stands out in somebody’s report. On that one day.

“There are probably a lot of teams that saw me and said, ‘This guy can’t play.’ You know? ‘Can’t play.’ Probably had a bad game. Made a couple errors, oh for three, oh for four, you know? Didn’t hit a ball hard, whatever.

“But the days you made a good play, ‘Oh, (shoot), he made a good play! Oh, he ranges far to his left. Oh, look at his arm, got a chance to show his arm. Oh, look at his speed, he’s 4.2 (seconds) to first (base). Oh, look at the power; he hit one 320 feet over the right-field fence.’

“A scout can only report what he sees, you know?”

And a scout might not have seen Brett the same had he not moved from catcher to shortstop his senior year.

Or seen him at all if he hadn’t played on a high school team in El Segundo, Calif., that was so oozing of talent that eight of the nine starters his senior year were drafted over a two-year period. That included Scott McGregor, who was the Yankees’ No. 1 pick a year later.

“There are a lot of scouts at your game when your team loses one game your senior year,” he said. “And you know there’s a lot of scouts at your game your junior year when you’re playing for the state championship in Dodger Stadium.”

Even so, who knows how often they actually were there to see him?

Even that day Brett made the lasting impression that would dictate the rest of his life, in his final game as a senior at what was then known as Anaheim Stadium, the Royals’ Tom Ferrick, the national cross-checker, was there mostly to watch the opposing pitcher, Roy Thomas.

After concerns about arm problems afflicting their intended first-round pick, Roy Branch, the Royals were in scramble mode.

Ferrick, like Stephenson, previously had rated Brett a “fringe” prospect.

But after this day, the over-arching term of his next report was to write in “upper” on the line asking what type of chance the prospect had.

“The way I remember it, he went four for four,” Gilhousen told The Orange County Register in 1992. “And I remember, George hit one off that left-centerfield wall.”

Yet all of that still didn’t mean Brett was sure to be a Royal.

“The night before the draft, the Red Sox, the Angels and the Giants all called and asked if I was going to college or I was going to sign,” he said. “I said I was going to sign.

“We never heard anything from the Royals, but I think (now) they were just dealing with their No. 1 picks.”

Though Stewart notes, “None of us were that smart to visualize him the hitter that he became. If we did, we wouldn’t have taken him in the second round,” Lou Gorman once suggested it was closer than that.

The Royals’ first farm director and later director of the team’s scouting department, Gorman suggested the process was more agonizing in his 2007 autobiography, “High and Inside: My Life in the Front Offices of Baseball.”

Gorman, who died in 2011, had become enamored of Branch, a St. Louisan who had idolized the Cardinal legend Bob Gibson and tailored his delivery and mannerisms to mimic Gibson’s, to remarkable results.

After being urged to go see him in person, Gorman wrote that he watched Branch strike out all 21 batters he faced in a seven-inning high school game and subsequently watched him strike out 19 of 21.

As the 1971 draft closed in, he “couldn’t get Roy Branch out of (his) mind. Branch, in my judgment, was as good as any young pitcher I had ever seen.”

He was so mesmerized that he was mentally gridlocked when a late rumor arose that Branch had hurt his pitching arm in a workout with the Cardinals.

Attempts to verify that were unsuccessful, and Gorman wrote that he “anguished” the night before the draft over what to do: take Branch or Brett first, with the massive risk of losing whichever he didn’t pluck before the Royals picked in the second round.

If the gamble paid off, Gorman wrote, he believed he’d have two potential All-Stars aboard.

He took Branch and then held his breath and prayed, he wrote, that Brett still would be available in the second round.

When he was, Gorman wrote that he “literally jumped to my feet to select him” and was “absolutely ecstatic” about having both in the fold.

Branch, it turned out, needed surgery for bone chips in his throwing elbow and had what Gorman called a “tragic” injury-riddled career, pitching in just two major-league games in 1979 with the Seattle Mariners.

Not being picked by another team wasn’t the only indulgence of fate in the career path of Brett, whose stern, exacting father, Jack, was a thorny businessman when it came to his son signing with the Royals.

“It wasn’t an easy negotiation,” Brett said during his Hall of Fame speech. “I don’t think when you did anything with my father, it was easy.

“My father, the first day (Gilhousen) came over to the house, threw him out.”

By the end of the month, Brett was signed for $25,000 and on the way to Billings, Mont., the jumping-off point for a Hall of Fame career with the Royals that began with him being called up to the parent team 40 years ago this week.

As Stewart remembers it, the organizational consensus on Brett was that Brett ultimately would have to be moved “off shortstop.”

A few games into Brett’s first minor-league season in Billings, Mont., third baseman Joe Zdeb suffered a broken nose on a bad-hop smash.

“So what did they do? They moved George to third,” Stewart said, “and George never returned to short.”

But even that wasn’t as crucial to his career as being discovered in the first place.

Scouting, notes Stewart, now the Royals senior adviser to the general manager, is “an inexact science, in the draft, particularly.”

It’s “the toughest job in baseball,” he remembers the legendary Branch Rickey saying to a group of scouts years ago.

And he believes it still is a monumental challenge “to project a 17- or 18-year-old boy and tell the front office what he’s going to be when he’s 22 or 23 years old and a man.”

Stewart also remembers Rickey saying, “You know, there’s scouts, and then there’s good scouts that produce great major-league players. Those … are like a great musician, with a fine ear for music.”

Along with Ferrick and Art Lilly, Gilhousen, whom Stewart said saw Brett the most, had just the ear for Brett, whose zeal was noted by all and became a trademark of his career.

“I didn’t have George rated that highly (before that 1971 game), either,” Gilhousen said in the 1992 interview, “except for his heart. And that’s what you can’t scout.”

Not precisely, maybe, but close enough.

Gilhousen is “the one who convinced the Royals — I don’t know if it’s ‘convinced’ — to send Tom Ferrick and Art Lilly out to watch me play,” Brett said. “If he wasn’t sending out such good reports, they wouldn’t have come out. They would have gone someplace else to watch. …

“The heart and the hustle and the desire, I guess. And that’s what I had. There were guys on the team better than I was with less heart, less desire. But I always enjoyed playing. I think they saw that. Played the game hard, you know?”

No matter who was watching.

“I don’t remember what game(s) they were at; I don’t remember what kind of game I had, you know?” he said. “But they saw something they liked, because they took me in the second round.”

To reach Vahe Gregorian, call 816-234-4868, send email to or follow For previous columns, go to

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