A man trying to hit .400 doesn't need any extra problems, but George Brett has one. A big one.
Today, Brett could not bear the pain of taking even one practice swing. He had to drop the bat.
When he tried to throw, he couldn't make the ball go more than 25 feet. In fact, the pain in his right hand was so bad, that he couldn't even unbutton his shirt right-handed to get it off a hanger.
"I'm scared," said Brett, who first noticed a twinge in the back of his hand after taking an awkward, one-handed swing here on Saturday night. It's been getting worse ever since.
Brett, who was out of the Kansas City lineup here today and will be X-rayed by Dr. Frank Jaobe in Los Angeles on Monday, has a right to be frightened.
The last time he felt such a pain was in '78, also after a bad swing. That time, Brett chipped a bone in his right thumb, played in pain all year with a splint and tape, and had his only sub-.300 season (.294) in the last six years.
"Oh, hell, something's wrong," were Brett's first conscious words when he woke up this morning.
"It was just throbbing. I couldn't make a fist," Brett said. "I couldn't even unbutton a shirt."
After ultrasound and whirlpool treatments at Municipal Stadium, Brett tried to throw and swing. It was a disaster.
"I couldn't even hold onto the bat on the follow through," he said. "I have no idea what it is. Of course, I hope it's just a painful muscle pull and I'll be all right in a couple of days.
"I know when I did it. In my third at bat last night (Saturday) against Len Barker, I swung at a 1-2 fast ball that was a little away and fouled it off." said Brett, who was zero for three against Barker, dropping Brett to four for 19 in his previous six games as his average has slipped from .406 to .396.
"I took a hard swing . . . well, more like a quick swing . . . and tried to pull the ball even though it was outside," Brett said. "I felt something for five or six seconds, but I shook it off and didn't think anything of it."
He was lunging and off balance during the swing and barely got a piece of the ball to keep from striking out. He then flied out, stayed in the game, and later drew a walk.
Brett's hand appeared a bit puffy today, but only hurt him when he put it in certain positions. Frequently, he forgot it entirely, including once when he spotted a New York Yankee scout, went over and grabbed his hand to shake it, then squealed in pain as he jerked his hand back.
"If George stays out of the lineup, you know he's hurt," said Manager Jim Frey. "He'll play with anything. You've got to multiply whatever he says by two or three to figure out how much he's hurting.
"Hell, we walked to the ball park toghether today and he never mentioned it.
He wanted to wait until the trainer had worked on it to see if he could play.
"We've just got to see what the doctors say. If this only gives him a little three-or four-day break, it might actually help him (hit .400).It might rest and rejuvenate him a little."
Brett covered his concern with jokes. "I'm not going to any Cleveland doctors," he said. "Last time we were here (in June), I hurt my ankle and a Cleveland doctor told me, 'You'll be out about three days.'
"He was only off by one digit. I was out for 30 days." Ironically, that injury here probably has helped Brett to his phenomenal season since it gave him a long mid-season "vacation" and has given him the lower at bat total that all statisticians claim is an aid to hitting .400.
However, Brett, the man with the highest batting average in september in 39 years, sees two main problems with his hand.
"My bottom (right) hand is more important in my swing by far," he said. "I don't roll my hands over and get my power from my top hand the way pull hitters do.
"I swing with my right hand giving the power and keeping my swing square through impact. My left hand is just a guide. In fact, I finish my swing with only my right hand on the bat. That's what I can't do now."
Brett also has another worry. He has only 447 plate appearances so far this season. You need 502 to qualify for the batting title. How many do you need to "qualify" as a .400 hitter? Who knows? The issue never has come up.
"If you hit .400, you hit .400," growled Frey."What has 502 plate appearances got to do with it? That's a whole other thing."
But if Brett doesn't get to 502, people exist who will give him the Roger Maris asterisk treatment.
"How many appearances do I need now?" asked Brett today.
Told it was 55, Brett said, "then I probably have to play in at least 13 or 14 more games." The Royals only have 24 games left.
Brett, of course, never looks at things in an uptight way. "The last time I got hurt here in Cleveland," he said with a grin, "I came back and hit .650 for the first two weeks I was in the lineup.
"I can never tell when I'll get hot, or what will cause it," he said, trying to look on the bright side as he flexed and unflexed his worrysome paw. "But when I do, I get veeeerrrry hot."
At the least, Brett has the ideal attitude.