Alyson Footer

Little-known tidbit revealed in Brett-Ryan talk

Hall of Famers reminisce on career highlights at banquet

Little-known tidbit revealed in Brett-Ryan talk

SAN ANTONIO -- George Brett is one of only four players to achieve the trifecta of recording at least 3,000 hits, 300 homers and a .300 lifetime batting average. He played more than two decades, is the greatest player in Royals history and has the sixth-highest voting percentage all time in Hall of Fame balloting.

But Brett also holds one more distinction -- of his 317 home runs, not one came off of Nolan Ryan.

That last part is a little-known fact that may not come up much in conversation under more conventional circumstances, but it was one that was visited and revisited on Thursday during the Kings of the Diamond banquet at the Hyatt Regency in San Antonio.

And with good reason -- with Brett and Ryan as the featured speakers, how the two fared against each other was a logical way to get the conversation started.

Brett's take on never homering against Ryan?

"Didn't want to," Brett said. "I saw what happened to Robin Ventura. That didn't look comfortable."

Ventura challenges Ryan

Brett may have keenly avoided mound-charging headlock moments with Ryan, but that doesn't mean the two Hall of Famers' careers didn't intersect in interesting ways.

Brett faced Ryan more than any other hitter, amassing 115 career plate appearances vs. the Hall of Fame pitcher. Ryan has allowed more hits to Brett -- 29 -- than any other hitter he faced, but Ryan also struck out Brett 18 times, the highest total of any pitcher Brett batted against.

Considering today's hitters could strike out 18 times in less than two weeks and not blink an eye, 18 whiffs in over 100 at-bats against one of the best in history seems pretty tame.

"When you have a hitter of George's quality, you can't approach him the same way," Ryan said. "You have to have a different look, try different things. That was the challenge. When they come to the plate with guys in scoring position, they're going to do everything they can to score that run."

Overall, Brett hit .287 (29-for-101) against Ryan, with four doubles, two triples and 14 walks.

"I'm happy to have hit .287 off a Hall of Famer," Brett said. "I prided myself on not striking out, but I knew, when facing him, you were going to strike out.

"He faced me early in my career with the California Angels. At the end of his career, he became a different pitcher -- he threw a sinker every once in a while, he still had good velocity. But to only strike out 18 times, I think was pretty good."

Brett, Ryan deliver lineup cards

Brett's Royals are in San Antonio this weekend to play the Rangers in the fourth installment of Big League Weekend at the Alamodome. The two-game exhibition series will begin Friday at 7 p.m. CT and will conclude Saturday at 2 p.m.

The Kings of the Diamond banquet, moderated by former San Antonio Express-News columnist Richard Oliver, served as an opening to the weekend, and each year has paired Ryan with different guests. In 2015, Pete Rose was Ryan's stage partner. This year's Rangers-Royals matchup created the perfect setting for the teams' most famous players to pair up for a back-and-forth reminiscence of their glory years.

Even more fitting, Ryan and Brett were enshrined in the Hall of Fame the same year, along with Robin Yount and Orlando Cepeda, in 1999.

Brett recalled the first time he faced Ryan. It was 1974, and he was 21 years old, playing in his first full season in the Majors. Brett was hitting somewhere near the bottom of the order, behind Jim Wohlford, who had just taken a Ryan fastball in the ribs.

"Back then, I used to stand on the plate," Brett said. "I remember getting as far back in the box, away from the plate as I could. I think the first pitch was strike out. The next pitch, I waved at, and the next pitch was strike three. I never smiled so much after striking out."

Ryan remembered Brett as a scrappy hitter who couldn't be figured out by scouting reports.

"He hit the ball to all parts of the field," Ryan said. "You couldn't pitch him one certain way. For me to pitch a left-hander in, I had to stay with the ball a little longer. And if I didn't, it ended out over the plate and he'd get a pitch to hit."

The Kings of the Diamond banquet, benefitting the Miracle League of San Antonio and the Nolan Ryan Foundation, drew more than 400 patrons. The event was full of amusing tales and poignant memories between two players who were relentless competitors on the field, but also have a great respect for each other today.

"One of the greatest days of my life," Brett said, referring to his Hall of Fame induction, "was to share the stage with not only one of my best friends in baseball, Robin Yount, but also one of the greatest pitchers in baseball."

Alyson Footer is a national correspondent for Follow her on Twitter @alysonfooter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.