Thursday, September 1, 2011

#237 - Ken Brett

At the time represented by this oddly-airbrushed photo - the Pirates wore black hats in '73 and '74 - Ken Brett was the best-hitting member of the Brett family. That would change pretty quickly when younger brother George started soaking up hits, but Ken was still smack in the middle of being the best hitting pitcher in the game. This time was also his best run as a pitcher so despite the cap on his head, the source of the big smile on his face is not too much of a mystery.

Born in Brooklyn and raised in Segundo California, Brett was drafted in the first round by the Red Sox in '66. Signed as a multi-use player the Sox opted to use Ken strictly as a pitcher since they had a well-stocked young outfield. In '66 he had a tough season with some control issues in Single A. In '67 he won a total of 14 split between Single and Double A, tossing 219 strikeouts in 189 innings. He was pulled up top in the final few weeks for a pretty exciting stretch drive in which at season's end only three games separated the top four teams. When Sparky Lyle got hurt, Ken took his place on the Series roster and thew a couple scoreless innings. In '68 he missed spring training due to winding up his military stint and early that season in Triple A he injured his arm in his first game back. That injury pretty much killed his fastball and it would take most of that season to recover and work his way back into the rotation, although both '68 and '69 were generally good years. He would return to Boston for a few games in '69 then have a decent year up top in '70 - 8-9 with a 4.07 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 139 innings. He also hit over .300 each season. In '71 he took a step back and following the season he was included in the big trade that brought him, Jim Lonborg, and George Scott to Milwaukee and Tommy Harper and Marty Pattin to Boston, among others. His year with the Brewers was sub-standard and after that season he went to the Phillies with Lonborg and Ken Sanders for Don Money, John Vuckovich, and Billy Champion.

Brett enjoyed his best season to date in '73, winning 13 as a prime member of the rotation with his first good season-long ERA. He also got 16 RBIs as he hit a record four homers in four consecutive starts. After the season he went to the Pirates for Dave Cash and again won 13, with a 3.30 ERA, and hit .310 with 15 RBIs. He would again experience some arm trouble in '75 and spend some time in the pen, but he posted good numbers, going 9-5 with a 3.36 ERA. In the winter he would again be part of a big trade, going to the Yankees with Dock Ellis and Willie Randolph for Doc Medich. While Ken started pretty well in limited time for NY he was then sent early in the season to the White Sox with Rich Coggins for Carlos May. In Chicago he won 10 and in '76 would end up posting his best ERA at 3.26. He remained a starter in '77 when he was sent to the Angels mid-season for a trio of young pitchers. While his record was ok - 13-14 - his ERA wasn't so hot and after a spotty '78 mostly in the pen California released him. After being signed and released by the Twins he was picked up mid-season by the Dodgers - back in the NL he hit .273 - and had a pretty good year for them as a middle reliever. But they released him during spring training in '80 and he signed later that season with the Royals, joining brother George. After a couple innings in Triple A he came up top where he pitched in small allotments that year and in '81. According to George when he made his first relief appearance for the Royals, Ken came in from the outfield with his arms spread wide like an airplane, dipping and running in either direction on the way to the mound. It was at that point George realized why Ken was traded or released nine times. Ken finished with a record of 83-83 with a 3.93 ERA, 11 saves, and 51 complete games. In five post-season games he had a 3.00 ERA. An All-Star in '74 he also hit .262 for his career with 10 homers and 44 RBIs.

After playing Ken got a Bud Light commercial gig which led to his being named manager in Utica for the '85 season. In '86 he did color commentary for the Mariners, a job he also took with California from '87 to '94. During that time he and his bothers also bought a couple minor league teams as well as a hockey one and Ken worked in management of those franchises on and off until 2003 when he passed away from brain cancer. He was 55.

Ken's rigidly upright signature belies his quirky, free-spirited nature. His nickname was Kemer, given to him inadvertently by George because the latter couldn't pronounce Ken's name correctly. Ken is still the youngest player to appear in a World Series game.

Another double, first for Schoendienst as a manager:

1. Brett and Reggie Smith on the '67 and '69 to '71 Red Sox;
2. Smith was managed by Red on the '74 to '76 Cards.

Now for Red as a player:

1. Brett and Tom Satriano '69 to '70 Red Sox;
2. Satriano and Joe Adcock '65 to '66 Angels;
3. Adcock and Red Schoendienst '57 to '60 Braves.

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