March 24, 2018

SHOELESS KEN:

Before Ohtani, there was Ken Brett: George's older brother considered the best two-way prospect many have ever seen (Joe Posnanski, Mar. 22nd, 2018, MLB.com)

For all the talk of Shohei Ohtani being the best two-way prospect ever, Ken Brett came first. He was a phenom on the mound and in center field before he became a journeyman. About 30 years ago, John Garrity wrote a book called "The George Brett Story." This was shortly after George almost hit .400 and was one of the biggest sports stars in America. Garrity quoted George's father, Jack:

"I went to a game one time," Jack said, "and somebody said, 'Casey Stengel is in the stands today to see him.' Yogi Berra was there. Carl Hubbell came to see him. I thought, 'God. Maybe he's good.'

"He was Mister America -- it was almost like he was a man among boys. I thought he could be a decathlon athlete. ... And he had a knack for doing the right thing. He was very modest. He was quiet. He was somebody you could be proud of. ... I always wanted him to play for the Yankees. I wanted him to replace Mickey Mantle."

Only after a little while did Garrity reveal that Jack was not talking about George. He was talking about Ken Brett.

"To this day," George says, "people just flat out say that he may be one of the best all-around athletes to ever come out of Southern California. ... He could have gone to any college in the country on a football scholarship or baseball. And academically."

Mister America. Future Major League All-Star Scott McGregor grew up in the same neighborhood; he said that Ken was his idol. But he was everyone's idol, really. Ken was the fourth pick in the 1966 MLB Draft. Here's how different it was then, The Associated Press story that introduced him to America said this:

"Boston snatched Ken Brett, a 17-year-old schoolboy from El Segundo, Calif., who was recommended by scouts."

That's a weird line, right? Recommended by scouts? Why did they put that in there? Were other players in the draft NOT recommended by scouts?

But there is some underlying truth to it because scouts adored Ken Brett. He was the perfect prospect. He was smart. He was a good student. He was an incredible athlete. And he was equally gifted as a pitcher and a hitter; going into the Draft, nobody knew which way he would go. Joe Stephenson, the legendary Red Sox scout (and father of Jerry Stephenson, a big leaguer and himself legendary scout for the Dodgers), saw Brett hit and wanted him to play center field.

"Kemer [Ken Brett's nickname] was the best prospect I ever saw," Stephenson once told Peter Gammons. "Kemer was a combination of George, Fred Lynn and Roger Maris."

But the Red Sox wanted Ken to pitch instead ... and why not? Carl Yastrzemski said he threw as hard as Sudden Sam McDowell, who had one of the greatest fastballs in baseball history. In time, injuries would steal that fastball. And after that happened, there was some some second-guessing, particularly by people who saw the Mister America version of Ken Brett.

How good a hitter could he have been?

"What you have to understand," Ken Brett's close friend, 1980 American League Cy Young winner Steve Stone, says, "is that when you have a brother like George Brett, a Hall of Famer, an all-time great, you become the other brother in the relationship. But what they don't understand is that Ken Brett could hit better than George. He could throw better than George. He could run better than George. He did just about everything better than George."

George concurs.

"Whoever was drafting fifth [Cubs] was taking him as a center fielder," George says. "Whoever was drafting sixth [Washington] was taking him as a center fielder. Whoever was drafting seventh [St. Louis] was taking him as a center fielder. I don't know how many teams there were in 1966 [20], but he was everybody's choice as a left-handed-hitting center fielder. He could run. He had a great arm, obviously. But the guy could frickin' hit "

Posted by at March 24, 2018 5:10 AM

  

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