“When life looks like easy street there is danger at your door.” -Grateful Dead, “Uncle John’s Band”
A little over a year after his legendary career as a California high school athlete concluded, Ken Brett became the youngest pitcher ever to appear in a World Series, posting 1.1 scoreless innings for the Boston Red Sox in the 1967 fall classic against the St. Louis Cardinals. The 1966 number 1 draft pick of the Red Sox could throw hard, run fast, and hit as well or better than many major league position players, plus by all accounts he was unflappable, oblivious to the pressure of the big moment. My guess is that in 1967 the future seemed very bright for the 19-year-old Ken Brett.
As it turned out his Hall of Fame destiny fell to his less ballyhooed younger brother, George, a 1971 second-round draft pick of the Royals. As George played his entire career for one team, Ken roamed from city to city, leaving the Red Sox after four partial seasons to play with the Brewers for one season, the Phillies for one season, the Pirates for two seasons, the Yankees for two games, the White Sox for most of one season and part of a second, the Angels for a season and a half, the Twins for nine games, the Dodgers for thirty games, and finally two seasons as a seldom-used reliever on his younger brother’s squad in Kansas City. This morning I balanced the shock of learning that Ken Brett is dead (he passed away of brain cancer in 2003) with the image of him in his first appearance as a teammate of his brother, who recalls in a 2003 Spokesman Review article by John Blanchette that Ken, to entertain George and their good friend, Royals catcher Jamie Quirk, sprinted in from the bullpen like a kid making believe he was an airplane, slaloming through the outfield with his arms straight out at his sides.
This makes me happy, as it seems to suggest that Ken Brett was not bitter that the golden path he seemed born to walk down turned into a series of potholed roads, the purposeless route of a journeyman. If we’re lucky, if we’re loved, we get the idea as children that life will be a golden path. But maybe if we’re even luckier we’re able to keep laughing when the path gets complicated.
So far in the 2007 playoffs the path has been golden for the first of Ken Brett’s ten teams, and it’s tempting to think that it will continue to be so as the series resumes this afternoon in California (TBS, 12:07 PT). But you never really know what’s going to happen. The best you can do is follow the lead of Ken Brett. Whether it was a World Series game in 1967 that seemed to foretell a long career of glory or a late season mopup appearance in a 1980 blowout loss that signalled the end of a career of nondescript drifting, Ken Brett enjoyed the moment.
The lineups for today, courtesy of the box score on Yahoo.com: