There were two times when I almost got to participate in baseball history. One was my attempt to see George Brett hit his 3,000th hit. The other is recounted under Trips and Travel - Florida, 1973. That was my attempt to see Hank Aaron hit his 714th or 715th home runs to tie and pass Babe Ruth's career record.
In September, 1992, George Brett was closing in on 3,000 hits. If you don't know what a big deal that is, it means almost automatic induction in the Baseball's Hall Of Fame. Of course, Brett was a certain inductee anyway, but 3K hits just added more credibility.
George Brett is, arguably, the most popular sports personality in the history of Kansas City. He was certainly my favorite in those days!
It was expected that Brett would not retire after the season and so if he didn't get to 3,000 in 1992, he would still get it early in 1993. Nevertheless, history is history. When I ordered the tickets for the game, I tried to calculate when the most likely date would be that he would get the record.
It was September 15th when I bought the tickets. Through the day before, Brett had 2,982 hits. He needed 18 more. There were 19 games left, but I was sure he wouldn't play every game. He was batting .276 at the time. Figuring the number of games he would probably play, his batting average and how many more hits he needed, I came to the conclusion that he would hit #3,000 on Saturday, October 3rd. So, I got four tickets for that date.
For the next two weeks, Brett projected to hit #3,000 a little sooner than that. He hit .318 over the following 11 games and I thought all was lost. He was sitting at 2,996 with a week to go before my tickets. But, as fortune would have it, he went 0/4 in the next game and then sat out two more games - both on the road. The idea was to set him up for hit #3,000 at home - which meant the final three games of the season - Friday, Saturday and Sunday against Minnesota. At that point, I thought it was possible I might still get to see history.
Coming from Topeka and working a normal job at the time, I had been thrilled that my projection came out to be a Saturday and that it was a home game. All the ducks were in a row.
Brett played on Wednesday, but my thinking was that they simply wanted to get him close to #3,000 so that he could sit out Thursday and be ready for the three-game series. If he didn't do it on Friday, then Saturday was a good bet.
Of course, to think that way is to not know George Brett. On Wednesday, he was sitting at 2,996. The game was in California. His first at-bat was a double (#2,997). His second at-bat was a single (#2,998). His third at-bat was a single (#2,999). They could have pulled him from the game to save him for the home series, but at this point, the idea of him getting four hits in a game to reach #3,000 was alluring. Besides that, who knows... maybe he would get five hits - or more.
The temptation being too great, Brett came up for his fourth time at-bat and, sure enough, hit another single for #3,000. It wasn't that my tickets became worthless, but it wasn't quite the same. Brett didn't play in Thursday's game and he hit #3,001 on Friday.
Saturday's game didn't mean anything as the Royals had a losing record and weren't going anywhere in the post-season except fishing. In the top of the first inning against Minnesota, KC's starting pitcher (Tom Gordon) only lasted a career low 2/3 of an inning. By the time he left, KC trailed 5-0 and the bases were loaded. It could have been worse. The next batter lined out.
Incredibly, however, with the help of hits #3,002 and #3,003, Brett and the Royals clawed their way back and eventually won the game 7-6 in 11 innings. So, although I didn't quite see history with Brett, I was treated to a sensational game!
Here is a repeat of my story on chasing Aaron's home run record. It is also listed under Trips and Travel (Florida, 1973).
Late in the summer after my sophomore year of college, I took off to go to Florida for the final month of summer before school started again. I ended up taking a job putting in fiberglass insulation – which in Florida in the summer is as close to hell on earth as possible. I stayed longer than I planned and realized I would miss the next semester. Even so, by the end of September, I was ready to come back to Kansas.
The baseball season of 1973 is famous for at least one thing – Hank Aaron’s assault on Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers in a career. At that time, Babe Ruth was remembered almost as a god. Baseball was by far the most popular sport and Ruth might as well have been George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. So, when Aaron was approaching Ruth’s record, it was a HUGE story. But, the part of it that made it even more compelling was that Aaron was black and Ruth was, of course, white. Millions and millions of fans did not want Aaron breaking the record, but it was inevitable… as long as he was alive to do it.
Aaron hit 40 home runs in 1973. He wasn’t going away unless, as he feared, someone killed him. At the time, the assassinations of John Kennedy, Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. were fresh on everyone’s mind. The thought that someone would take out Aaron was a very real issue in most people’s mind at the time.
I was stupid in 1973. Of course, most 20-year olds are. I headed back to Kansas on Thursday, September 27th. Aaron was sitting on 712 home runs – two short of the Babe. Aaron’s Atlanta Braves were playing the Houston Astros in the last two games of the season. Strangely, they had two days off before they played.
You have to remember (in my defense) that in those days, information was not easy to come by. You didn’t just log on to a computer and the internet. You had to find a newspaper and it had to have what you wanted or you were screwed. So, I wasn’t completely a moron…
…Nevertheless, as I was leaving from Florida, I came to the same junction that I spoke about in my Florida 2004 story - the junction of I-75 and I-10 in north Florida. One went more direct to Kansas while the other went straight west. I could take either, but I-10 would take longer than the other. Ironically, as it turns out, I took the wrong one for multiple reasons.
I turned west on I-10 and the reason I went west on I-10 was because I wanted to go to Houston. I figured I had plenty of time to make it before the Saturday game between Houston and Atlanta. I foolishly thought I would just buy a ticket and perhaps watch home run history being made. Of course, it would have been impossible to buy a ticket, but I was a bozo from Kansas… what did I know?
But, that’s only the half of it. After a brief stop in New Orleans, I headed on to Houston. I got there on Friday night. The next morning I discovered that the game that day was being played between Houston and Atlanta alright, just that it was in… Atlanta, not Houston! Had I gone the direct route to Kansas, I would have gone through Atlanta! Of course, I still wouldn’t have been able to get a ticket, but I probably would have saved a lot of time - over a year.
As it turns out, Aaron homered that day for #713, but failed to homer the following day, Sunday, the last day of the season. So, at the end of 1973, he was one home run short of Ruth’s record. It made a very uncomfortable six months for him because he was sincerely worried about his life.
As for me, I instantly fell in love with Houston, which at the time was an extremely fast growing city that was very clean, new and rich. Oil was king and that was during a time when the oil embargo made American companies more money than they could spend. I got a job working for Houston Lighting and Power in the Rate and Research department. They tested me and decided I was good at math (what a shocker) and put me in that division. I ended up staying in Houston for 15 months until I came back to Kansas on vacation and realized how much I missed being home.