Ken Brett, 55; Sox phenom was World Series youngest pitcher
Ken Brett, who as a 19-year-old became the youngest World Series pitcher in history in the Red Sox "Impossible Dream" season of 1967, died Tuesday of brain cancer in Spokane, Wash. Mr. Brett, the brother of Hall of Famer George Brett, was 55.
In his 14 years in the major leagues, Mr. Brett won 83 games and lost 85, with a 3.93 ERA. He bounced around both leagues throughout his career -- 10 teams in all. But it was with his first team that he made history in the Fall Classic.
The Sox had drafted the left-hander in the first round, fourth pick overall, in the 1966 amateur draft. Labeled the future ace of the Sox, the phenom with an overpowering fastball was in the major leagues by the next fall.
He debuted late in the regular season, tossing two innings of one-run ball during the pennant race.
"He had a lot of poise," said former Red Sox shortstop and teammate Rico Petrocelli. "He was a lot like his brother. He had that great sense of humor."
Despite Mr. Brett's youth, Petrocelli said, he was not intimidated by one of the most climatic finishes to a regular season in baseball history, as the Sox were locked in a three-way battle for the top of the American League.
"He was very mature for his age and very well-liked," Petrocelli said. "He fit into the clubhouse perfectly. We were young and everybody could take things lightly."
After the Sox clinched the pennant in a season-ending win against the Minnesota Twins, Mr. Brett was expected to be no more than a non-roster cheerleader for his mates in the Series against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Sox brass, however, had other plans. With reliever Sparky Lyle hurting with a sore elbow, the Sox made an emergency request to replace Lyle with Mr. Brett on the Series roster. Commissioner William Eckert approved.
"Nothing ever fazed him. We had no hesitation about putting him on the World Series roster, none at all," Dick Williams, Boston's manager that year, recalled yesterday. "He had the guts of a burglar."
Mr. Brett was 19 years, 1 month when he took the mound in the eighth inning of Game Four. In the morning box score, it was a rather non-descript outing: One inning, one walk, one strikeout, no runs. But to players and fans at that game, his performance was eye-opening.
"Where has he been!?" Cardinals skipper Red Schoendienst said after the game. "With the kind of stuff he showed us, you wonder why he isn't starting the Series. But don't let me give the Red Sox any ideas."
Mr. Brett pitched once more in the Series, in Game Seven. Entering the game with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth inning, he induced Tim McCarver to ground out.
Despite the disappointment of losing the Series, Sox fans and scribes took comfort in the feats of Mr. Brett, who was dubbed by some the "next Lefty Grove."
That promise never was fulfilled. After an injury-plagued season in the minors in 1968, Mr. Brett played parts of three more seasons with the Sox until management ran out of patience.
In October of 1971, Mr. Brett, then 23, was part of a blockbuster trade that saw 1967 Cy Young winner Jim Lonborg, first baseman George "Boomer" Scott, Billy Conigliaro, Joe Lahoud, and Don Pavletich go to the Milwaukee Brewers for speedster Tommy Harper and two seasoned pitchers, Lew Krausse and Marty Pattin.
In a baseball town known for its curses, Mr. Brett later offered his own. "The worse curse in life," he was quoted as saying, "is unlimited potential."
The transaction would be the first of many for Mr. Brett. Before retiring in 1981, he would also play for the Philadelphia Phillies, New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, California Angels, Minnesota Twins, Pittsburgh Pirates, Los Angeles and Kansas City Royals, where he and George were teammates.
Although he never reached the heights predicted in the early days of his career, Mr. Brett had several stellar moments in his career. He was the winning pitcher while representing the Pirates in the 1974 All-Star Game at Pittsburgh.
On May 27, 1974, Mr. Brett held the San Diego Padres hitless into the ninth before settling for a 2-hit shutout win. On May 26, 1976, he had a no-hitter with two out in the ninth inning against California when Jerry Remy's slow roller down the third base line was allowed to roll by Jorge Orta and ruled a hit rather than an error. Mr. Brett won the game 1-0 in 11 innings.
He became known more for his ability to hit the baseball than throw it. He set a record for pitchers by homering in four straight starts for the Phillies in 1973, In all, he also hit .262 with 10 homers.
George Brett, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times yesterday, recalled that the Red Sox were the only team interested in making his brother a pitcher. Nearly every other team had been planning to put him in center field.
In addition to his brother, Mr. Brett leaves his wife, Teresa, two children, mother, Ethel, and two other brothers.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this obituary.
© Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.