The late Joe Stephenson was one of the greatest scouts who ever lived, and a few years back I asked him, "who was the best prospect that you ever saw?"
Without hesitating, he replied, "Kemer Brett. But not as a pitcher. He was the best positional player I ever scouted. We (the Red Sox) took him with the fourth pick in the 1966 draft and we were desperate for pitching. He was left-handed. He had a great arm; heck, he was the youngest player ever to pitch in the World Series (in '67).
"But," said Stephenson, "Kemer was a combination of George, Fred Lynn and Roger Maris. He was the best prospect I ever scouted."
Ken (Kemer) Brett was so great a hitter that he was his little brother George's hero. He had a great arm and showed flashes of brilliance, winning 13 games for the Phillies in '73 and the Pirates in '74. But he never found any degree of consistency. "My problem," he once said, "was that I'd be out there on the mound, a plane would go over in some low pattern, and I'd think, 'I wonder where it's going.' I guess I never had the perfect makeup."
But he could hit. Ken Brett once homered in four consecutive starts for the '73 Phils. One winter, an Angels teammate bet him $10,000 that he couldn't go to Puerto Rico as an everyday player and bat .270. Kemer went to Puerto Rico and hit .290 as a DH (playing some first base and outfield), just because he was a Brett and so competitive. The teammate never paid off the bet, and Kemer didn't care.
When I finished my 30th season covering the major leagues in 2001, I was asked to name my favorite star player in my career. I split the vote between pitcher and player, Luis Tiant and George Brett, and I remember closing the George Hall of Fame piece saying, "in my years in baseball, if I could have one person at the plate with the game on the line, it would be George Brett."
There is a special personality trait that goes with being a Brett, part impish, fun-loving, clever, loyal to the end. When Kemer was broadcasting Angels games, every time I'd be at a series, he'd interview me for his pregame show, which meant he handed me a $100 bill for appearing.
"I never forget my friends," he said.
Kemer died Wednesday, and I have lost a friend, one I will never forget, either. He might not have gotten the chance to be a better player than little brother George, but he was every bit his peer as a person, and anyone who got to know him is terribly sad.
Click here to send Peter a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.