For Pete's Sake

Some Royal perspective: Hal McRae, George Brett, the Yankees and how the game was played

George Brett came up swinging at his Yankees counterpart, Graig Nettles, after belting a triple in the AL Championship Series in 1977.
George Brett came up swinging at his Yankees counterpart, Graig Nettles, after belting a triple in the AL Championship Series in 1977. AP file photo

As the hot air continues to swirl around the contentious Royals-A’s series last weekend, it might be useful, or at least fun, to take a look back at another Royals playoff team, its hated rival and how those guys played the game.

As you know, the Royals’ Kelvin Herrera was suspended for five games and Yordano Ventura was fined for their roles in the series, Major League Baseball announced Tuesday.

That weekend ruckus included a hard slide by Oakland’s Brett Lawrie that took out shortstop Alcides Escobar, a 99-mph fastball from Yordano Ventura that hit Lawrie, a Scott Kazmir pitch that hit Lorenzo Cain, and finally a heater thrown behind Lawrie, courtesy of Herrera, along with some kind of gesture.

There is a lot of angst around baseball about who the good guys and bad guys are in all of this, but longtime Royals fans might remember another Kansas City team that would not back down.

In the days of Hal McRae and George Brett, the Royals hated the Yankees, and the Yankees hated the Royals. It was a time of hard slides, fights, bad blood and Billy Martin. And it all culminated in the 1977 American League Championship Series described beautifully in this 2007 column by Joe Posnanski.

McRae was famous for hard slides — there is even a base-running rule named after him — and this takeout of Yankees second baseman Willie Randolph in game two was the talk of the series.

More from Posnanski’s column:

“That was a vicious clip,” Martin said.

“Is there bad blood between the teams?” a reporter asked Martin.

“I don’t think there’s good blood,” he replied.

“It was a cheap shot,” Thurman Munson said.

“It inspired us to play harder,” Randolph said.

“I would have thrown the ball into his face,” Martin said.

McRae was unapologetic. He said that’s the way the Royals played ball — the way he had learned to play from Pete Rose and others on the Cincinnati Reds’ Big Red Machine. When someone asked him whether it was the hardest he’d ever hit anyone, McRae said: “I don’t rate them. I just try to do my job.”

Fast forward to game five. George Brett tripled, and when he slid into third, Graig Nettles apparently kicked Brett in the face.

And back to Posnanski:

“What are you gonna do when someone kicks you in the face?” Brett asked afterward. “You gonna just lie there and say, ‘Kick me again?’ “ Apparently the answer — despite a fairly direct line in the Bible — was no. Brett popped up and started swinging. All of the anger that had built up over five games spilled out along with the benches.

When the fight was over, once again, nobody was thrown out of the game.

This was, as they say, a time when men were men.

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