Saturday, October 20, 2007

A Night of Drinking with George Brett

One of my favorite stories is when I spent a night drinking with then future Hall of Famer George Brett. Back in about '86, the Royals were in Oakland to take on the A's. John was an autograph, ball, bat and attention hound for ballplayers. He tried to get a bunch of us bleacher bums to go with him to the lounge of the Royals' hotel after the game to schmooze and get autographs from the recent World Champs. Well, only Margaret and I went along with it, and insisted on driving separately.

The hotel for the visitors in Oakland was in the middle of crime infested industrial Oakland, so ballplayers were confined to the hotel lounge for fun. There was nowhere to go "out on the town." Most of the Royals that night were there. John brought his canvas gym bag full of balls, baseball cards and various other souvenirs with him. Sharpies in big supply. He had nicknames for all the Royals: "Saber" (Brett Saberhagen), "DJ" (Danny Jackson), "Goobie" (Mark Gubicza), etc., and after about five seconds of his trying to make advances toward the ballplayers, Margaret and I retired to the bar.

As we sat, a man came up next to us and plopped a beer glass down, then ordered another one. While he waited, he turned to us and said, "Hi, how you folks doing?" We turned to find out it was none other than George Brett. And when megastar George Brett asks how you're doing, you answer. He engaged us in conversation, and when he received his beer he hugged the stool with his rear in a way that suggested he'd be sitting a while. It was obvious that he already had a few. Giddy with circumstance, we talked baseball. He bought us a round of beers. Early on, Brett Saberhagen came up and ordered a Corona and walked away, forgetting all about it. I asked George if he thought Brett would mind if I had a sip of his beer. George flicked the lemon off, took a strong swig, pounded it on the bar and said, "HELL, NO! It's yours!"

We talked about many things. I asked George who the worst fans in baseball were, hoping to see where A's fans ranked. He replied that the Yankee fans were worst, but if you asked Royals outfielders, they would say the bleacher bums in Oakland. YES! What a confirmation of what we did every day. He mentioned specific fans that said specific things to Royals players. He also mentioned a fan who heckled him once with "Hey, George, you got your Preparation H and your pine tar mixed up!" There was no way I was gonna tell him that fan was me! I'm glad he remembered!

Meanwhile, John was frustrated with being turned down by every Royals player so far. They all knew him and his m.o., and made fun of him subtly in front of him without him noticing. John was such a character. Anyway, his frustration brought him to the bar to tell us that he was going home. Then he saw who was sitting with us. "Awwww, you dogs!" he said in green envy. True to his method, he started in on George by asking for an autograph. Then a ball, then a bat. George replied with a really loose, "If I'm gonna give anybody a bat, it's gonna be Marrrrrgaret!" and flopped his arms around her shoulders with one of those big, fat, wet been-drinking hugs. John was pissed. So he split, and let us know how lucky we were for days.

We continued sitting there with George, and he kept buying beers. In California the bars close at 2am. Last call and he bought a final round. When George Brett buys, you let him. The bartender finally closed the bar. But George stayed. When George Brett stays, you stay with him. The bar tender then ordered us out. But George ignored him. When George Brett ignores the bartender, you ignore him, too. At long last, the bartender finally called down the hotel manager to kick us out. George reluctantly complied. When George Brett reluctantly complies, you comply. George was a bit tipsy, so to say. The next day was a day game. We wondered if he might be a bit hung over the next day, but remembered that this was probably the norm for many ballplayers. I've always liked George Brett and will never forget that memorable night.

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