Note: April 10, 2023 will mark the 50th anniversary of the first game at Royals/Kauffman Stadium. Each week, I will look at one memorable moment in stadium history, with the top moment revealed on April 10, 2023. Missed an entry? You can find past ones here.
Over the years, the Royals have employed a handful of Hall of Famers for a season or two, but of course they can only really lay claim to one of baseball’s immortals so far: George Brett. If you’re reading this, I will assume you have some familiarity with Brett’s accomplishments, so let’s get to the story of his last home game.
By the time the 1993 season rolled around, Brett was assured of his place in Cooperstown. He collected his 3,000th hit late in the 1992 season, so it was just a question of how high he could climb on various all-time stat lists. He spent a good part of the offseason before 1993 pondering whether he wanted to return, and finally decided he would. Rather amazingly, owner Ewing Kauffman actually told Brett after the 1992 season that he should retire so the team could use his spot for a younger player. But the owner issued a public apology when the story came out, and Brett eventually decided he had another season in him. It was an especially nice decision since 1993 marked the 25th season of Royals baseball and the 20th anniversary of Brett’s major-league debut.
But everyone knew there was a good chance this was the final season of Brett’s playing career. Starting a family (Brett got married in 1992 and the couple had their first child during spring training in 1993), turning 40 during the season, already having a Hall of Fame career…there were plenty of reasons for him to move on to his next chapter, which meant a job in the team’s front office. Then, of course, there was the fact he was struggling at the plate like never before. Brett almost always started the season slowly, but in 1993 he was still hitting just .233 at the end of May. Manager Hal McRae’s plan to platoon Brett with Keith Miller at DH prompted Brett to tell a reporter he was likely done after the season.
The Royals hung around in the AL West race much of the summer, Brett began hitting better, and he started to make noises about returning for the 1994 season. But as the season neared its close, Brett and the team could not agree on contract details for another year. And then Brett realized he no longer had the passion for playing he once had. So, on September 25, he announced his retirement, with just four home games remaining.
Of course, the very next day, Brett hit a walkoff home run (after a three-run shot earlier in the game) as the Royals beat the Angels in 10 innings. He went 0-5 in the first of a three-game series with Cleveland, then 1-4 the next night. And here it was, September 29, 1993, and Brett’s final home game.
The Royals held a pregame ceremony for the retiring superstar. Pitcher Mark Gubicza, Brett’s teammate for 10 years, served as master of ceremonies. The Royals players took the field for the ceremony with their pants legs high and stirrup socks showing, just like Brett normally did. They presented him with gifts including a Jet Ski, an autographed jersey, and a framed piece of the artificial turf that had been so hard on his knees.
“Whenever your body feels in good shape, you can look at this and feel sore again.”–Gubicza, quoted by Dick Kaegel, The Kansas City Star, September 30, 1993
Brett acknowledged the long standing ovation from the crowd of 36,999.
“If you only knew how good you make me feel. It’s amazing.”–Brett, quoted by Dick Kaegel, The Kansas City Star, September 30, 1993
Brett thanked his teammates, then turned to his manager and stopped speaking for a second as he choked up.
“Hal, you were a great example for me when I came up to the major leagues. Hopefully, you’ll be a great example for these people with us. And continue that tradition for a Royals tradition that will last forever.”–Brett, quoted by Dick Kaegel, The Kansas City Star, September 30, 1993
And, true to form, Brett injected some levity into the proceedings. Addressing the Cleveland dugout, he singled out a young outfielder who had made several outstanding catches, including two home-run saving ones, on potential hits for Brett over the previous couple of years.
“Where’s Kenny Lofton? I hate you. I really hate you.”–Brett, quoted by Dick Kaegel, The Kansas City Star, September 30, 1993
Lofton tipped his cap to Brett, and after the game, expressed admiration for the legend.
“George is a legend. For him to say something to me…I’m pretty honored. I took base hits away and he still got 3,000. He may have gotten 4,000 if I hadn’t taken some away.”–Lofton, quoted by Blair Kerkhoff, The Kansas City Star, September 30, 1993
The game itself, between two teams eliminated from postseason contention, was hardly noteworthy otherwise. Brett hit fly balls his first two times up, the second one on a fine running catch by Lofton, then grounded into a double play in the sixth. Cleveland scored two runs in the fourth and held the 2-0 lead until the eighth. Starter Jose Mesa was still in the game and got the first out, but Brent Mayne hit a pinch-hit double, followed by Kevin Koslofski’s RBI single, with Koslofski advancing to second on right fielder Wayne Kirby’s error. Jeremy Hernandez replaced Mesa and struck out Brian McRae for the second out. Brett stepped to the plate and, as he had done so many times before, delivered the clutch hit, a ground ball to center field to tie the game.
“It was a Charley Lau hit. A grounder up the middle.”–Hal McRae (invoking the hitting coach who helped Brett so much in his career), quoted by Jeffrey Flanagan, The Kansas City Star, September 30, 1993
After Bob Hamelin walked, moving Brett to second, Hal McRae decided to use Phil Hiatt as a pinch-runner for Brett. The crowd booed the decision briefly, then changed to cheers for Brett as he came off the field.
“It wasn’t a prearranged deal or anything. But Hal has been doing that all season. I wasn’t surprised, and I wasn’t hurt or let down. Hal’s trying to win a ballgame, and I kind of agreed with the decision.”–Brett, quoted by Jeffrey Flanagan, The Kansas City Star, September 30, 1993
“My concern was to try and win the ballgame. I can’t be concerned about the other things at that point. I did the right thing.”–Hal McRae (invoking the hitting coach who helped Brett so much in his career), quoted by Jeffrey Flanagan, The Kansas City Star, September 30, 1993
Hernandez got the last out, but the Royals scored in the ninth to pick up the win, with Koslofski singling to drive in the winning run.
After the game, Brett rode a complete lap around the field in a golf cart, waving to the crowd. When he got back to home plate, he authored one last indelible moment, kneeling down and kissing home plate.
“Hank Bauer used to tell Jamie Quirk that he should kiss home plate every time he comes to the ballpark so I figured that the last time in uniform I thought I’d kiss home plate and tell Jamie what he was missing.” And? “Nothing special, nothing special.”–Brett, quoted by Dick Kaegel, The Kansas City Star, September 30, 1993