Brett's chase now a race against time Aims for 3,000-hit mark before end of season

September 15, 1992|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

George Brett seems to be getting ready for his baseball afterlife. He got married for the first time last February. He will become a father right around the time he starts spring training next March with the Kansas City Royals.

But there's this little matter Brett would like to resolve before making a decision about his future. Whether the 1992 season is the last of Brett's sure-to-be Hall of Fame career will certainly be influenced by his chase for 3,000 hits.

"It's [reaching 3,000] something I'll do before I retire," Brett, 39, said in the visiting clubhouse at Camden Yards before last night's Royals-Orioles game. "I'm too close to turn my back on this now. I know if I don't get it, I'll be back next year."

As the Royals finish out another disappointing season, the only magic number in Kansas City these days is 18: the hits Brett xTC needs to become the 18th in major-league history, and the second this season, to reach that milestone.

Though Brett and Robin Yount have shared the same stage this season, even the Milwaukee Brewers center fielder conceded recently that Brett was in a different class as a hitter.

"If George hadn't been hurt as much as he was, he would have reached it a long time ago," Yount said before getting his 3,000th hit last week.

At last count, there have been five knee injuries, a separated shoulder, a broken toe and a broken thumb. But that didn't prevent Brett from becoming the first player in history to win batting titles in three different decades, most recently in 1990.

Brett knows that the .308 average he carried into this season -- second highest to Wade Boggs among active players with 10 or more years -- could have been higher. He realizes that he might already have figured out his future, if No. 3,000 was in the books.

"I've had a lot of problems I can't change," said Brett, who became the Royals' designated hitter this season after being a Gold Glove third baseman and, later, a first baseman. "I wish I hadn't had those injuries. I wish there was no lockout for 50 games in 1981. I can't change any of that. I'll try to take advantage of what I can change."

Like the .276 batting average he carries after last night's 0-for-4 performance against the Orioles. With four hits Saturday in New York -- the 53rd such performance of his career broke an 0-for-15 skid -- Brett appeared to be getting back the stroke he needs to reach his goal this season.

"I've surprised myself at times this year, and I've disappointed myself at other times," said Brett, who hit a career-low .255 last year. "Last year was a major disappointment. I didn't know what to expect.

"I'm not really happy with the season I've had, but I've made a comeback. I've still got a little time to go to add to those numbers. It's no fun for me to hit .280. I hit .280 [.282] my rookie year."

It is why Brett was out for early hitting yesterday, and why, barring injury, he will be in the Kansas City lineup for the remainder of the season. Hal McRae, Brett's manager, will certainly not stand in the way of his former teammate's chase for history.

McRae, who was part of a memorable and controversial batting race won by Brett in 1976, said last night: "I think he's set a good example for a lot of the young guys on this ballclub. We're 20 games behind and he's out there trying to reach the goal he set for himself."

Brett knows that, ultimately, he will lose his race against the invisible clock that wears down nearly every player, future Hall of Famers and journeymen alike. He is merely trying to make things competitive toward the finish line.

In those 19 years with the Royals, Brett holds the distinction of seeing players such as Harmon Killebrew, Orlando Cepeda, Tommy Davis, Gaylord Perry and Vada Pinson close out their respective careers in Kansas City. It was not a pretty sight.

"I'm not saying they embarrassed themselves," Brett said with a chuckle. "But they weren't what they used to be. I always said I don't want to go out like that. I know it's going to end sometime. I want it to end on a good note."

Hit leaders

;/

Top five active leaders (through Sunday):

1. Robin Yount, Milwaukee..........3,001

2. George Brett, Kansas City.......2,982

3. Dave Winfield, Toronto..........2,850

4. Eddie Murray, New York Mets.....2,626

5. Andre Dawson, Chicago Cubs......2,485

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