Jack Brett looked
up from his crossword puzzle. "When he was 17 and a senior in high
school...." He frowned. "That's when it really struck me."
baseball scouts had begun haunting the night games at Recreation Park in El
Segundo, Calif. to watch Jack Brett's son play. "Really important people
were coming to watch," he said, a tea kettle hissing on the kitchen range
behind him. "I went to a game one time and somebody said, ' Casey Stengel is
in the stands today to see him.' Yogi Berra was there. Bobby Doerr of the Red
Sox was there. Another time, Carl Hubbell came to see him." Jack Brett's
eyes didn't twinkle and he didn't smile, but his voice dropped down low. "I
thought, 'God. Maybe he's good.' "
He stared at the
ponderous leather-bound scrap-books on the table and finally did smile, a
little. "He could run so fast. The scouts who saw him play the outfield
said they never saw him make a wrong move. They never saw him throw to the
wrong base. He had a knack for playing the outfield." Jack shrugged.
"He was Mr. America—it was almost like he was a man among boys. 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." Jack looked down at a picture of his
gifted son—no more than a schoolboy at the time—posing for photographers at his
first World Series. "I always wanted him to play for the Yankees," the
Brooklyn-born father admitted. "And I wanted him to replace Mickey
The next day a
coach at El Segundo High School smiled when asked if Jack Brett's memory could
be trusted. Really, had this Brett boy been that good?
doubt about it," the coach said. "We haven't had any athlete go through
the school who could compare with Ken Brett."
Jack Brett, 58,
has a reputation for hardness—his four boys grew up chafing under his sometimes
cold and demanding discipline—but he is almost rapturous when he talks of his
second-born, Ken. "He looked like the statue of David when he was growing
up," Jack says. "When he was just a little boy, his stomach was so
strong that you could see the plates, the muscles. Even when he was five!
People used to say, 'My God, look at the development on that kid.' "
Brett's sons are
a major reason why bumper stickers in El Segundo proclaim the town BASEBALL
CITY USA. A financial director for an automotive company, Jack has fathered
four professional ballplayers, two of them major league All-Stars. And one of
them is quite likely to wind up with a bronze plaque at Cooperstown.
though. Nobody expected it to be George Brett.
"With Ken you
always knew he was going to be a star," says Bobby Brett, 31. "He
wasn't just the best guy on the team. He was always the best guy in the league
by far. He was Southern California Player of the Year two times in his
division. He was a superstar in a competitive hotbed of baseball."
He was more.
Think back to St. Louis, Oct. 8, 1967, the fourth; game of the World Series. A
light rainfall has begun in the eighth inning with the score 6-0 in favor of
the Cardinals. The Red Sox—their hitters overwhelmed by the fastballs of the
glowering Bob Gibson, their pitching staff depleted by injuries—have sent a
19-year-old kid from California to the mound. He's the youngest pitcher ever to
perform in a World Series. The Red Sox call him Kemer, pronounced kemmer,
because when he was born, his older brother couldn't pronounce Kenneth. In
Oneonta, N.Y., where he reported for duty barefoot, fans of the Red Sox Class A
farm club know him as Shoeless Ken Brett. And in Pittsfield, Mass., where he
hurled 15 complete games and had a 1.80 ERA, they call him the first good
lefthander in the Red Sox organization since Mel Parnell.