A couple of weeks ago, I saw my great friend Bill James. Well, I can tell you the exact day — May 1. I know this because it was the day after Anthony Rendon had 10 RBIs in a game against the Mets.
Bill and I LOVE when stuff like that happens. You probably do too. Even people who say that they are overwhelmed by baseball’s advanced numbers and the maze of information out there and just want to get back to the basis of the game will get a real kick out of a game where a guy gets 10 RBIs.
“You know,” Bill said at one point, “I’ll bet George Brett probably didn’t have 10 RBIs in a WHOLE SERIES more than a couple of times.”
It was an interesting point, and we talked about it for a few seconds, and then we moved on to other things. To be honest, I kind of forgot we even had that conversation.
But today — exactly two weeks later — I got an email from Bill. It turns out, purely by coincidence, that today is also George Brett’s 64th birthday. But, really, that is a coincidence, just as it was a coincidence that Bill used George Brett in his original comparison. He could have just easily said Mike Schmidt or Joe Morgan or Al Kaline or anyone else. He probably used Brett because we both love the guy.
In any case, he looked it up. Because … Bill James.
I finally got around to checking,” he said, as if he was apologizing for taking so long to do something I had no earthly idea he was going to do. “It was actually only once. Brett had only one time in his career when he drove in 10 runs in three consecutive games, whether against one team or different teams, but it did happen to happen in a 3-game series against Toronto when he was on that incredible hot streak in August 1980.”
Yep. It happened from August 15-17, 1980. Those of you who are Brett-aholics probably sense something familiar about those dates. The’re kind of famous.
Brett was in the midst of a crazy, almost unprecedented hot streak. There was a record-setting heat wave hitting the Midwest then, and Brett LOVED hitting in that crazy hot weather. From May 25 to August 13 — 49 games while Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan campaigned for President — Brett hit .462 with 34 extra hits in 49 games. He was absolutely ridiculous.
It was during that crazy stretch that Brett was playing golf with his lifelong buddy, Baltimore’s Scott McGregor. At one point, Brett had driven the golf cart ahead when McGregor hit his shot. McGregor realized, with horror, that the ball was headed right for his pal.
“FOUR!” McGregor yelled.
At which point, Brett stepped out of his cart, pulled out a club, waited for the ball, swung — and hit it right back to McGregor, who would call it the greatest athletic feat he’d ever seen.
In any case, Brett went into that weekend series with Toronto hitting .391. He went just 1-4 on Friday night, dropping his average to .389, but his one hit was memorable — a three-run inside-the-park home run off Jesse Jefferson. So those are the first three RBIs.
On Saturday, Brett went three for four with two more RBIs. That moved his average up to .394.
And the Sunday, well, that’s one of the most famous baseball days in Kansas City history. Brett went four for four with two doubles, the second one a three-run double off Mike Barlow. That pushed his average to .401.
That shot of George Brett standing at second base — arms in the air, batting helmet in one hand, .401 showing on the scoreboard behind — is probably the most famous snapshot of Brett’s awesome career (either that or him kissing home plate in his late game).
Well, in addition to going over .400, Brett had five RBIs in the Sunday game. So, three RBIs on Friday, two more on Saturday, five on Sunday — there it is, the only series in George Brett’s career where he had as many RBIs as Anthony Rendon had on April 30 against the Mets.
“To me,” Bill writes, “that is just incredible. . .that Anthony Rendon drove in as many runs in ONE game as George Brett ever drove in in a three-game set.”
People often call Bill a numbers guy, a statistician, a baseball geek or whatever. And it has long seemed to me that they miss the point. Bill doesn’t care about numbers. He is uninterested in statistics as a concept or the numbers of other things. He cares about what baseball statistics can open up about the game. He longs to search the numbers to get beyond the platitudes and BS that people say just because it sort of sounds sort of right to them.
And, yeah, sometimes after Anthony Rendon has 10 RBIs in a game, he is just curious if George Brett ever did that in a series. Bill doesn’t like the RBI stat particularly. He isn’t trying to prove any point about Rendon or Brett. It’s just fun. That’s the point. Fun.