Before he was a Royals hitting instructor and internet sensation, George Brett was actually a Hall of Fame baseball player who spent his entire legendary career in a Kansas City Royals uniform. The former Royals second-round pick spent all twenty years of his career in Kansas City, as owner Ewing Kauffman rewarded him handsomely for being the superstar face of the franchise.
But there were points of contention where the relationship hit snags and it wasn't at all evident that Brett would be a Royal for life. Before the 1980 season, the twenty-six year old signed a five-year, $5 million contract extension, that was to run from 1982 through 1986. But by spring training of 1982, salaries had begun to escalate around baseball, and Brett was already beginning to feel underpaid.
'The whole situation regarding baseball salaries has changed since I signed my present contract,'' said Brett. ''Now some guys are getting $2 million who have never hit .300. I've done it six times.''
In October of 1982, during the National League Championship Series between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals, George Brett appeared in the stands, front row, with of all things, a St. Louis Cardinals cap on his head. Had there been a blogosphere back then, it would have EXPLODED with trade rumors.
There he sat, first row, National League playoffs, a St. Louis Cardinals cap on his head. George Brett, kibitzing with former Royals teammate Darrell Porter, laughing off postseason blues of defeat, sloshing in a Busch brew, in a Busch Stadium box seat.
Sitting there with a Cardinals cap on his head, how he fanned the flame. Rumors have flickered across every baseball front that Brett might be, will be, wants to be traded to the Cardinals.
The Cardinals were managed by Whitey Herzog, the former skipper of the Royals during the Royals division titles in the 1970s. Herzog and Brett were close, and Brett openly professed to missing his former mentor.
"Tough question," Brett said when queried about whether he’d like to play once again for Herzog…."I played for him almost five years, and important years when I was learning to play the game." Brett admits he misses the camaraderie with Herzog, playing Hearts in the clubhouse and hunting and golfing in the off-season, and the loose atmosphere that Herzog permitted by allowing family and friends in the clubhouse or in pregame workouts.
The trade rumor that winter would be a package revolving around Brett for some combination of first baseman Keith Hernandez, third baseman Ken Oberkfell and/or outfielder George Hendricks. While General Manager John Schuerholz brushed off trade rumors as "baseless", the Royals were reportedly listening to offers, and Brett himself fanned the flames further by remaining open to a deal.
"I love Kansas City," he said. "I owe it the best nine year of my life so far. I’ve made money, met fantastic people, been relatively successful. I’ve learned how to live. I grew up here in a sense. But most of my friends have moved, so I’m not encouraging it (a trade), I’m not discouraging it. I’m just prepared for it. If I’m traded I’ll take it with a grain of salt."
George, who's agent was his brother Bobby, would later back down that spring after the Royals refused to negotiate his contract, and eventually the trade talk simmered down. The Royals offered the possibility to renegotiate the deal in a few years, and in 1984, George signed his infamous "lifetime contract" that would pay him a bit over $1 million a year through the 1991 season with club options tacked on for 1992 and 1993. It looked as if Brett would be a Royal for life.
Until 1990, when he complained his $1.5 million salary was being dwarfed by other salaries in baseball and opened up the possibility of a trade.