In late July of the 1973 season, Royals third baseman Paul Schaal suffered an ankle injury that sidelined him for 19 games.1 Utility infielder Kurt Bevacqua filled in at the hot corner during Schaal’s absence. Searching for a replacement, the Royals placed a call to their Triple-A team in Omaha, Nebraska. Around noon on August 2, George Brett and his roommates, catcher Buck Martinez and pitcher Mark Littell, were getting ready to grill some hamburgers for lunch when they heard a knock on the door. It was Omaha manager Harry Malmberg who came over to inform the tenants that one of them was headed to Chicago to join the Kansas City Royals. Brett and Martinez assumed it was going to be Littell.2
Instead it was George Brett. Brett, who had competed in the Triple-A All-Star Game a month earlier, was caught off-guard. Brett was told to skip the burgers, gather his stuff, and drive to Rosenblatt Stadium to get his baseball equipment. Brett arrived in Chicago around 5 P.M. By the time he got to Comiskey Park it was too late to take batting practice, which wasn’t a big deal since Malmberg told Brett that he wouldn’t be playing that night. However, Brett noticed that the lineup card had him playing third and batting eighth.3
The game-time temperature was a pleasant 70 degrees with a gentle breeze. Before a crowd of 11,775, the Royals were facing right-handed pitcher Stan Bahnsen, which might explain why they wanted to get Brett’s left-handed bat in the lineup. In the top of the first, Kansas City jumped on Bahnsen for two runs. Freddie Patek led off with a walk. A single by Cookie Rojas sent him to third, and he scored when Amos Otis grounded into a force play at second. John Mayberry walked, sending Otis to second. With Gail Hopkins batting, Bahnsen tried to pick off Otis at second. When Otis broke toward third, White Sox third baseman Bill Melton couldn’t handle the throw, allowing Otis to scamper home with the second run. Mayberry chugged to third, where he was stranded. Hopkins grounded out second to first, and Lou Piniella grounded out to third to end the inning.
With one out in the top of the second, Brett stepped up to the plate for the first time in the major leagues. With a batting stance that resembled Carl Yastrzemski’s, he lined out to Bahnsen as the Royals went down in order.
In the bottom of the second, the White Sox were retired in order. Brett handled his first chance at third base when Buddy Bradford grounded to him for the second out of the inning.
In the bottom of the third, the White Sox scored a run when Luis Alvarado led off with a triple off Royals starter Dick Drago and scored on a fly ball to center by catcher Ed Herrmann. Pat Kelly singled but was thrown out trying to steal second, and Jorge Orta struck out to end the inning.
With the Royals ahead 2-1, Brett came up again in the top of the fourth with one out and blooped a broken-bat single to left field for his first major-league hit. He was out at second when Fran Healy grounded into a double play.
In the top of the seventh, Brett struck out looking as the Royals went down in order.
It remained 2-1 heading into the top of the ninth. With Bahnsen still on the mound, Piniella singled to left. Ed Kirkpatrick sacrificed Piniella to second. Brett’s grounder to second advanced Piniella to third. Healy singled to center to drive in Piniella, but then was picked off first by Bahnsen for the third out.
The Royals victory, along with the Oakland Athletics’ loss to the Minnesota Twins, gave Kansas City sole possession of first place in the American League Western Division.
Schaal returned to the Royals lineup on August 14.
On August 17 the A’s reclaimed first place from the Royals on their way to winning their third division title in a row.
Stan Bahnsen, who began the season with a 4-1 start, went on to finish with an 18-21 record. Along with teammate Wilbur Wood, who went 24-20, the two pitchers combined to start 90 games for the White Sox in 1973. As of 2018 it was the last time that a team had two 20-game losers in the same season.
In the week that followed Brett’s debut, he started three games at third base. From August 9 to September 7, Brett rode the bench for 24 consecutive games. In the second game of a doubleheader on Saturday, September 8, he entered the game in the sixth inning as a pinch-runner for Schaal and remained in the game. He sat on the bench for the next 10 games until September 18, when he played the entire game. He played in seven more games down the stretch.
Brett finished the season with five hits and a .125 batting average in 40 at-bats. He went on to collect 3,149 more hits over the next 20 years to earn a plaque in the Baseball Hall of Fame.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com.
1 Sid Bordman, “Royals Find a Fresh Beef Supply … in McRae’s Bat,” The Sporting News, September 1, 1973: 9.
3 “Welcome to The Show: George Brett Called Up to the Royals,” interview by the Kansas City Star: youtube.com/watch?v=lo58IaZgUPM&index=2&list=PL02VuT_SObZKgXiAols9l1rcXCe0X16O6.