Mr. Brett Goes to New York

Friday, October 6, 1978 Game 3 of the ALCS, Yankees and Royals, Yankee Stadium, Bronx, New York

I had moved to New York from Kansas City in January of ‘78. As a life long A’s then Royals fan, I naturally despised all things Yankee, from their elitist pinstripes to Sparky Lyle’s mustache to their smug and condescending fans. Nuthin’ but jerks.

I had to tamp this down as the company that employed me did a lot of work for the Yankees and I spent a considerable amount of time at the Stadium that summer and fall. Knowing I was from KC, the Yankees gave me three tickets to Game 3 of the ALCS. The jerks. Catfish Hunter going against Paul Splittorff.

The teams had split the first two contests in Kansas City. This was my first post season game and the first time I would see Catfish Hunter pitch in person. I wore my blue KC cap and I was pumped. The seats were field level and we were sitting almost even with third base. Great seats. Jerks.

If you follow the Royals then you know that George Brett hit 3 homers off Hunter, in the 1st, 3rd and 5th innings, all to right field, becoming the first post season 3 homer player since the leagues went to division play. All the home runs were solo shots. Catfish Hunter was kind of renowned for the fact that, while he gave up a fair amount of home runs, a large percentage of them were of the solo variety. Brett had hit just nine home runs in the regular season so this outburst was unexpected to say the least. Plus he hit an absolute bullet to right center that Paul Blair, subbing for Mickey Rivers, ran down and a ball to deep left that was caught at the wall. It seemed he was within a few feet of a five homer day, seriously.

Reggie Jackson homered off Splitt in the second and, of course, Thurman Munson applied the coup de grace in the eighth with a two run shot off Doug Bird, whereupon some cigar chomping Yankee lover ran down in front of me and pantomimed choking to death even to the point of going to his knees in case I didn’t understand his meaning. What a jerk.

Yet two mistakes by the Royals still stick with me and they might have made the difference in the game.

Early in the game, Amos Otis was on first with two outs and Pete LaCock hit a dying quail to center. Rivers tried to make a shoestring catch but the ball ticked off the end of his glove and rolled to a stop a few feet behind him. Otis had obviously forgotten how many outs there were because he came to a dead stop between first and second. He hustled to third once the ball got away from Rivers, but had he been running as he should have he’d have scored easily. Final score was 6-5.

With the Yankees batting and Lou Piniella on first with one out a soft liner was hit to Freddie Patek. For some reason Sweet Lou had taken off in a mad dash toward second, so he was dead meat when Patek caught the ball. Freddie took his time, double clutched, then lobbed the ball waaayy over LaCock’s head at first, allowing Piniella to scramble back safely. The Yankees did not score that inning but the tenor of the game and the vibe in the stadium seemed to change with that play. The Royals seemed a little nervous, the Yanks confident.

After the game, we went to a bar called The Pear Tree. It was in the building where Johnny Carson lived when The Tonight Show was filmed in New York. The Pear Tree was an early version of a sports bar with a couple of TV’s at each end of a long bar. It was filled with Yankee fans raising hell and toasting all the Yankees from Catfish, Rich Gossage, Reggie and Thurman all the way back to Yogi and Mickey. So it was very pleasant for a Royals fan. Especially after that tough loss.

Then a guy stood up on a bar stool and commanded silence. He raised his glass and said, "Here’s to a kid I’m telling you will be a Hall of Famer, George Brett" and they all drank. Still one of the coolest things I remember about New York and it was from Yankee fans. Nuthin’ but jerks.

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