By George, these Royals could go far
Brett sees team capable of reaching postseason for first time since '85
SURPRISE, Ariz. -- So could the 2014 Royals bring postseason play to Kansas City for the first time since the World Series championship of 1985? Let's ask a guy who was there.
"They're capable of it," Hall of Famer George Brett said. "There are capabilities of it, yeah."
Brett is in Spring Training camp as an extra instructor and inspirational presence, as he has been almost every year since he retired as a player in 1993. As a club vice president, he's close to the club during the regular season, too. During the 2013 season he got real up close and personal with the players when he served two months as interim hitting coach. So he brings a special perspective to this year's camp.
What did he learn about the Royals last year?
"I learned that winning is important to them, that they expected to win every time they went onto the field -- they weren't [just] hoping to win like teams of the past," Brett said. "I think winning was important, they played to win and I think what was evidenced by that is that guys were trying to do more than they were capable of doing at lot of times at the plate. They were trying to be heroes rather than soldiers."
Brett had a device to help combat that attitude.
"One of the things I used to do was walk around and ask guys what their name was," he said.
"What's your name?"
"Uh, Mike Moustakas."
"Well, be Mike Moustakas. You're not Babe Ruth, you're not Mark McGwire, you're not Barry Bonds. Just be Mike Moustakas and we'll be fine."
Brett and Pedro Grifol took over from longtime hitting coaches Jack Maloof and Andre David just after a dreary 4-19 stretch last May.
The Royals improved enough to make a late run for a Wild Card berth. Brett signed off in late July, leaving the job to Grifol, but sees some good signs for 2014.
While Brett appreciated what Alex Gordon did as the Royals' leadoff man last year, he believes he's better suited for the middle of the lineup. Gordon is penciled into the 5-hole behind third-place hitter Eric Hosmer and cleanup man Billy Butler.
On top of the order are newcomers Nori Aoki and Omar Infante who, as Brett noted, have had low strikeout totals. In fact, Aoki has walked more than he's struck out in his two seasons in the Major Leagues.
"And that doesn't happen very much in baseball anymore," Brett said. "Back in the old days, it happened. Strikeouts now are part of the game. Strikeouts didn't used to be part of the game. Do we strike out too much? I think we were last in the league in strikeouts [1,043] but you still shouldn't have a guy strike out 120, 130 times."
The Royals had three hitters -- Gordon, Hosmer and Butler -- with 100 or more strikeouts. although the team total was lowest in the Majors. Brett would like to see it go lower.
"What Pedro is doing with the hitters this year, practicing a lot of two-strike approaches in batting practice, I think it's going to cut down on strikeouts," Brett said. "Anytime you put the ball in play, you've got a chance for something to happen."
The Royals ranked 11th in the American League in scoring last year.
"We're going to score more runs, I don't think you're going to see anything like that 4-19 swoon of last year and it was all due to a lack of hitting," Brett said. "I don't think you're going to find us having long losing streaks, because our pitching is so good. I think our offense is going to be a lot better than last year and our defense is maybe the best in the league.
"To me, our bullpen is one of the best in the league, so it takes a lot of pressure off pitchers to say, 'All I've got to do is go six.' Blood-and-guts it for six innings, just go out there and do the best you can, maybe seven, and then you've got the bullpen."
Brett paused a moment to soak up the Arizona sun.
"So, yeah, I think there's good reason to be optimistic this year. Good reason," he said.
Brett officially yielded the hitting coach job to Grifol on July 25.
"It was to a point when, in all honesty, the players didn't come to me. They went to Pedro," Brett said. "I was a glorified hitting coach, but he was doing all the work and, as a result, I just didn't feel right. This guy should be the hitting coach, not me."
Also, getting back into the demands of baseball travel after 20 years brought back not-so-fond memories.
"That's one of the reasons I retired [as a player]," Brett said. "The reason I retired in 1993 at age 40 is I lost the fire. I remember saying that if we win, I don't feel great, if we lose, I don't feel bad. If I get a hit and it would help the team win, I don't get goosebumps and if I make an out, I don't want to break something.
"The frustration isn't there when I'm playing bad and the excitement isn't there when I do something good, so I figured it was time to leave. But the main reason was I was just tired of traveling."
Brett, however, continues his annual return to uniform in Spring Training.
"I love it," Brett said. "This is my baseball fix."
Does he see any similarities between this team and the World Series winners of 1985?
"We didn't score a lot of runs, I know, in '85," Brett said. "But we had good pitching and good defense, so this team is similar in a way."
Encouraging words for Royals fans.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.