Columnist Vahe Gregorian offers musings about the sports scene in and around Kansas City
Friday Five, George Brett edition: Hitting coach is ‘the worst job in baseball’
06/06/2014 9:09 AM
1. As he does fairly often, George Brett sat and chatted with Royals general manager Dayton Moore in Moore’s suite at Kauffman Stadium a few weeks ago.
And consistent with what The Star’s Andy McCullough reported Wednesday, Moore’s probe of Brett’s interest in returning to a hitting coach role was casual and tentative … and then some.
If Brett was offered the job, Brett said, laughing, Moore “did it in such a sly way I didn’t know it.”
Moore, of course, did it in such a way as to gauge interest rather than dangle an explicit offer, and he learned all he needed from their talk.
But just to clarify, even if Moore had been more direct and specific, Brett wouldn’t have been interested in resuming a role he calls “the worst job in baseball.”
2. Lest he be misunderstood, Brett didn’t mean it specifically in the context of the Royals.
He meant the duty itself, as he laid out in one stream-of-consciousness answer coaxed only by the question of why it’s such a chore via telephone Thursday:
“Now they have indoor cages, and guys do the underhand soft-toss drills at like 1 in the afternoon. And (batting practice) isn’t until 5, or 5:30 on the road.
“So you do the soft-toss, and you pick up all the balls, then you soft-toss to somebody else, and then you go out and take batting practice. And then right before the game, they want more soft-toss.
“And then let’s say you’ve got four guys swinging the bat real good at one time on the team. They don’t need a lot of counseling. They don’t need a lot of work. (And) if you’ve got four guys (doing well), that mean you’ve got nine swinging the bat (poorly).
“And so you’re always trying to think, ‘What could make him have more success?’ … So there’s always going to be times when you have to, you know, tinker with people’s swings.
“Four guys you don’t have to tinker with if you’ve got four guys swinging good, but there are nine guys constantly scratching their heads saying, ‘What am I doing wrong? How come this isn’t working?’
“You say, ‘Try this.’ (They respond) ‘That doesn’t feel good.’
“ ‘Well, then try this.’ … ‘That doesn’t feel good.’ …
“They (line out) to center, hit it on the nose, and they’re mad. What are you mad at? You hit the ball hard. That’s all you can do. The more you hit the ball consistently hard, the higher your average is going to be. So don’t get mad when you hit the ball hard (and are out). You’ve done your job. That’s why they have eight guys out there with gloves.
“It’s a tough job, dealing with major-league players. They’ve all had success, because that’s how they got to the big leagues, and now they’re not successful and they’re scratching their heads too much. …
“They’re all used to being the best players on their teams. Guess what? They’re not the best players on the field any more. Kind of hurts their egos a little bit.
“It’s a never-ending battle. I really believe it’s the worst job in baseball.”
3. Even so, Brett doesn’t regret his experience last season, when he spent two often-gratifying months working alongside Pedro Grifol and seemed to help reinvigorate the Royals.
That stint was a month longer than he’d committed to Moore on their ride across-state to St. Louis to start the job on May 30.
Along the way to Busch Stadium, he recalled Moore saying, “That’s fine: We just need someone to go in there and try to light a fire.”
In fact, the Royals were 21-29 when he arrived and went 65-47 the rest of the season … albeit without him in uniform for the final months.
But the Hall of Famer downplays any role he might have had in that resurgence.
“I thought the players were going to (Grifol); they weren’t coming to me,” he said. “I would make suggestions. Pete and I would talk about things and try to come up with a plan for everybody. And then after at-bats, they wouldn’t ask me. They’d say, ‘Pete, how did that look?’ “
“So it just came to a point where I helped the team gain confidence in Pete, (but) no one’s coming to me, so what am I doing? It’s just eyewash.
“It looks good maybe, as a (public-relations) move to have me on the field, but as far as players taking suggestions that I suggested, and working on them and bringing them into games, that didn’t happen.
“So as a result I just said, ‘You know, I’m wasting my time. I’m not making any impact on these guys. Pete’s having the impact, not me.’ “
4. At least in terms of runs scored, the actual impact was infinitesimal. The Royals had scored 199 runs in 50 games when Brett and Grifol took over, an average of 3.98 runs a game.
They scored 449 in the next 112, an average of 4.008.
“We started winning more games, but we were winning games 3-2 and 2-1,” Brett said, laughing. “I’m going, ‘Yeah, wow, I really had a big impact on that game – all five hits.’ “
He added, “We got better pitching when I was there. In fact, I was telling people I was the pitching coach.”
5. But probably more than anything else, the reason Brett wasn’t interested in doing it again was a lot more basic.
Life beckoned, not to mention a friend who was dying that he wanted to spend more time with.
“When you don’t travel for 20 years like that, then all of a sudden you’re in that routine again, the routine is what really made me retire as a player,” he said.
In fact, when he did retire after the 1993 season, Brett actually thought he could have continued playing.
“I don’t think I was as good as I was. My last year I hit 260-something (.266), which I was embarrassed about, but I had 19 home runs and 78 RBIs (actually 75) or something,” he said. “So if I went back to the Royals and said, ‘Hey, I led the team in … RBIs,’ they probably would have given me a contract for one more year, and if they didn’t somebody else would have.’
“But you do that life for 20 years, jumping on airplanes at 11, 12 o’clock at night, getting into hotels at 3 or 4 in the morning, I mean it just wears you down.
“And then I did it for two months as a coach. And God, it was just, ‘What am I doing?’ Holy cow.”