CD's Connect the Dots... Gone Too Soon

The City of Philadelphia and fans everywhere are abuzz with talk of a former Phillie pitcher about to find his way back home after several years in the desert. As we talk of a former Phillie pitcher found, it is well and good that we take a moment to talk of a former Phillie pitcher lost, lefty Ken Brett.

They say the mark of a man is not measured in the number of years he lived but in the number of lives he touched. Indeed, it is written that a man named Methuselah lived 969 years, and as far as can be determined, touched no one. Yet, Ken Brett, a man gone too soon at 55 years of age, touched so many lives during his time here on earth.

Needless to say, it would be foolhardy to insist that his one season with the Phillies in 1973 was the highlight of his career. After all, this was a man who still holds the major league record for being the youngest hurler ever to appear in a World Series game. Pitching for the Boston Red Sox as a rookie in 1967, he was a mere 19 years and 1 month when he hurled 1-1/3 scoreless innings of relief against the St. Louis Cardinals.

This was also a man who was the winning pitcher in the 1974 All-Star game, as a member of the Pittsburgh Pirates. Talented and friendly, he was forever reinventing himself, first as one of the greatest high school athletes of his time, then as a successful major league pitcher, whose career spanned 14 seasons.

When his career ended, he went on to become a very popular radio announcer for the California Angels and Seattle Mariners. Finally, he worked with his brother George in operating a minor league baseball franchise in Spokane, Washington.

One cannot mention Ken Brett without mentioning George Brett in the same sentence. They were best friends, competitive brothers and comrades in arms. Ken always insisted that his greatest baseball thrill of all time was announcing the Angels-Royals game on the day that brother George got his 3000th hit. Such admiration was the way that he viewed his brother… and his life!

However, if Philadelphia may not have been his career highlight, it certainly would rank near the top. Acquired along with pitcher Jim Lonborg and two other nondescript pitchers from the Milwaukee Brewers on October 31, 1972 for infielder Don Money, he was more treat than trick during his brief stay with the Phils.

Brett, along with Lonborg, immediately bolstered a pitching staff that in 1972 had basically been "The Steve Carlton and pray for three days of rain show." In 1973 these three pitchers, along with All-Star Wayne Twitchell and rookie Dick Ruthven gave the Phils a very solid and dependable starting rotation.

In fact, as late as Labor Day, the Phils were mere 5 games behind the eventual National League champion New York Mets. Had Carlton continued his 27-win form from the previous season, that team might have won a pennant. Yet, in many respects Philadelphia's baseball revival began that year and Brett was one of the major revivalists.

Brett did so much more than win 13 games that season, including a six game winning streak that lasted nearly two months. He was a breathe of fresh air to a city and team that badly needed to inhale. One can only imagine the theatrics that might have occurred with this team had Brett stayed around in 1974 when another noted comic, Jay Johnstone, joined the team.

The simple truth is that had Brett made Philadelphia his baseball home he undoubtedly would have become among its most beloved players; he was that popular with the team, the media, and the fans. The team loved him because he was unassuming, the media loved him because he was quotable and the fans loved him because he was talented and friendly.

Talented? It is a tribute to his talent that he is listed twice in the esteemed Baseball Player Register, not only for his work as a pitcher, but also for his skills as a hitter. Moreover, Bill James chose Brett as the player most likely to have successfully changed positions in the 1960's. As skilled as he was on the mound, he was equally talented as a hitter.

It is well known that he holds the major league record for a pitcher by homering in four straight games while pitching for the Phils in 1973. What isn't as well known is that if not for an umpire's mistake, Brett would have made it five. On Sunday, June 3rd, while facing the San Francisco Giants in wind-swept Candlestick Park, Brett hit a drive that carried over the left-center field fence.

However, the fence had a stationary bar that was partially in place beyond the fence. Brett's drive hit the bar and caromed-back onto the field of play. The umpires mistakenly called it a double; replays later confirmed it was a home run. Ironically, the lost run may have been the difference in a game the Phils lost by one run.

Thus started a remarkable string that would not end until the unfortunate injury while pinch running. On June 9, he homered against the Padres in a 4-1 win. He repeated the heroics on June 13 in a 16-3 triumph against the Dodgers. Five days later, he homered again in a complete game 9-6 victory against the Mets. He set the record on June 23 with another homer in a 7-2 win over the Expos.

The streak was interrupted when Manager Danny Ozark chose to use Brett as a pinch runner late in a game on June 26. Such was the athletic esteem that his manager had for him; but a price was paid when Brett was thrown out at the plate and suffered a sprained ankle.

He was lost to the team for over two weeks and when he returned as a reliever against Atlanta, he struck out in his one appearance at the plate. The home run streak was over, but not his personal winning spark. His three scoreless innings in relief resulted in a 6-5 win, the sixth straight for Brett.

The lefty would finish the '73 season with a 13-9 record but to the disappointment of a burgeoning fan base in Philly, he was traded on October 18, 1973 to the Pittsburgh Pirates for a second baseman named Dave Cash. Although the trade worked out well for both sides, it is a tribute to Brett's popularity that it took some time for Phillie fans to grudgingly acknowledge the mutual benefits of the trade.

Interestingly enough, both he and Cash made the NL All-Star squad in 1974, a game that Brett won in relief while a member of the Pirates. During the next several seasons, his career path saw him visit places as diverse as New York, Anaheim, Minnesota and Los Angeles.

Finally, his career goal was satisfied when he became a member of the Kansas City Royals in 1980 and was united with his brother George. Although his career ended in 1981, it was not without unforgettable memories, both for those he served, and those he touched.

It is a telling tribute to his indomitable spirit and zest for life that he overcame his first battle with a brain tumor four years ago. Sadly, the second one caused his death on Tuesday night, November 18th. He left behind a family that loved him and friends that felt blessed to have known him.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote," When time, which steals our years away, Shall steal our pleasures too; The memory of the past will stay, And half our joys renew." Such was the way he lived, and the legacy he left behind for us to savor.

Ken Brett, you will be missed by your many friends and fans, truly a man that was gone too soon.

Columnist's Note: I welcome suggestions, questions and comments. Please send them to connectthedots@earthlink.net and I will respond! CD from the Left Coast.

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