The young third baseman, lugging a paltry batting average at the All-Star break in his first full major-league season, felt lost and dejected.
Then George Brett and his hitting coach Charlie Lau put together a plan, one that included mechanical adjustments and fundamentals but emphasized the mental approach.
The result was a rally that lifted Brett’s final average in 1974 to .282, got him to third in the American League Rookie of the Year voting and paved the way to a Hall of Fame career.
If Brett had any suggestion for the Royals’ current young third baseman, Mike Moustakas, who’s in his second full big-league season and lugging a .178 average into Monday’s game at Houston, it would be to start where it did with him, above the shoulders.
“We all know what he’s capable of doing,” said Brett on Monday before teeing off at the Joe McGuff ALS Golf Classic at the Nicklaus Golf Club at LionsGate in Overland Park. “But I just think he has to relax, see the ball and hit it. Breathe, smile, have fun. The game’s no fun when you’re on a one for (34).”
A one-for-34 skid has plunged Moustakas’ batting average 42 points in the past 1 ½ weeks.
Brett said he used to create fun when things weren’t going well.
“Force fun, I used to call it,” Brett said. “Sometimes when I was looking for my swing, I’d say nobody is going to have more fun than me. Like, I’d be the first one in the dugout for nine innings. Next thing you know, you get two hits in a game.”
And fun no longer had to be forced, which was the case for most of Brett’s 21 seasons, which produced 3,154 hits and a .305 career average.
But the career didn’t get off to a promising start.
Two games into June 1974, Brett’s average had slipped to .205, and by the All-Star break, it remained an uninspiring .237. Lau worked with Brett through the break and together they shaped Brett’s swing and mentality.
Lau told Brett he saw a hitter, but adjustments were needed, and the pair set a goal — boost the average to. 250. A few weeks later, Brett finally made it.
“The day I got to .250, I came back to the dugout, and Charlie said, ‘So? Now, it’s .260,’” Brett said.
The days became routine. Extra hitting every day, 3 p.m. on the road, 4 p.m. at home, 10 to 15 minutes in the cage.
“Just to maintain,” Brett said. “So when I went into a game all I had to do was think about seeing the ball and hitting it. I didn’t have time to think about my mechanics.
“Sometimes, your brain can do only one thing at a time. If you’re thinking about your mechanics and somebody’s throwing a fastball at you 95 miles per hour, you ain’t going to see it if you’re worried about your mechanics. Your reaction is going to be a little slow.”
Brett said he discussed a similar approach with Royals hitters during spring training. Spend cage time on fundamentals. Get in soft toss and hitting off the tee. But free the mind once you step into the batter’s box.
In the second half of the 1974 season, Brett hit .317, including a .352 clip in August.
He was chasing .300 for the season but lost about 10 points on his average in the final few games.
Still, everything had changed. The next season, he led the league in hits (195) and triples (13) and in 1976 won the first of his three batting titles.
“I got to the point in baseball where I knew what a good swing felt like,” Brett said.