On the afternoon of Sept. 30, 1992, Kansas City Royals manager Hal McRae made two lineups for his team’s matchup against the host California Angels. One lineup included George Brett, nursing an injured right shoulder, at designated hitter. The other did not.
Shortly before 6 p.m., Brett took 50 swings off the tee and decided to give it a go.
"I was sure I could play,” Brett later told reporters, “if I didn't swing any harder than that, and I didn't. After 19 years, I finally figured out I didn't have to swing hard to get hits."
And after 19 years, two batting titles and two American League pennants, Brett gave his fans one last show. The late addition to the lineup went 4-for-5, with his last hit making him the 17th player in major league history to reach 3,000 in his career.
Brett, who attended high school in nearby El Segundo, Calif., seemingly had the entire crowd ready to cheer him on when the Royals touched down in Anaheim. But the 39-year old had sat out the first two games of the series, and fans began to wonder if he would make it back to complete his quest for 3,000 before the end of the season.
“A lot of people flew from Kansas City thinking I was going to get it,” Brett told MLB.com in 2011. “I remember the first game was on a Monday and they all came to the ballpark, and I didn't play, and I think a lot of them left about the second or third inning because the Chiefs were on Monday Night Football.”
Indeed, an announced crowd of just 17,336 (well below the Angels’ average of 25,499 that season) filed into Angel Stadium that evening, as many fans doubted he could collect the four required hits in one night. In the top of the first, Brett lined a double off Angels starter Julio Valera for hit No. 2,997, and followed with two singles.
George Brett follows through on a swing during the 1985 World Series. Brett carried a .370 average in the series as the Royals defeated the Cardinals for the franchise’s only world championship. BL-539-2003 (National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
The first base from Anaheim Stadium, donated to the Museum after Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett collected his 3,000th hit with a single on Sept. 30, 1992. (Milo Stewart, Jr. / National Baseball Hall of Fame)
In the seventh, with the crowd on its feet, Brett grounded a fastball from Tim Fortugno toward second base and initially thought he would be thrown out.
“It felt extremely good, then I looked up and saw the second baseman, (Ken) Oberkfell, standing right there, and I thought, 'Oh . . . he's going to catch it,’” Brett said. “But it took a bad hop and almost took his head off.”
The ball caromed into right field and the crowd erupted. Brett was evidently caught up in the moment as well, as Fortugno picked him off at first base.
“I was the most surprised person in the ballpark,” Brett admitted. “I was right in the middle of a sentence to (Angels first baseman Gary) Gaetti and they picked me off.
“He asked me if my wife was here and I said, yes, and I had friends here from Kansas City. He didn't even let me finish the sentence. Believe me, my mind wasn't on being picked off.”
George Brett is the only player to win a batting title in three different decades. His last came in 1990, when he hit .329 at age 37. (Doug McWilliams / National Baseball Hall of Fame Library)
The first base that Brett was picked off from, along with the Royal blue helmet he wore that day, were sent across the country to Cooperstown. Seven years later, on July 25, 1999, Brett would end up there as well as a new inductee to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Matt Kelly is the communications specialist at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum