Taped over center fielder Willie Wilson's locker in the Kansas City Royals' dressing room is a bumper sticker. In blue and white, the team's colors, it reads, "George Brett For President."
At 32, George Howard Brett is three years shy of being eligible to run for president of the United States. But in the town where he has performed for 12 baseball seasons, trying to tell anyone that Brett can't do something is a little like trying to get him out with a pennant on the line.
It is almost impossible.
Last week, after an agonizing month during which he batted .226, Brett showed once more why he is building a strong case for induction into the Hall of Fame someday. In six games, with the American League West Division title on the line, Brett got nine hits in 19 at bats. He was walked six times. He hit five home runs -- two of them inside the park. He drove in 10 runs and scored nine. At third base, he also made what his manager, Dick Howser, thought was the key defensive play of the week.
"He's the franchise," relief pitcher Dan Quisenberry said. "Without George, what the rest of us do doesn't much matter."
In a career filled with lustrous numbers, this year may have been Brett's best, even better than 1980 when he hit .390 and won the Most Valuable Player Award. This year, he hit .335 with a career-high 30 home runs and 112 runs batted in.
The 1980 team had a still young Hal McRae, a powerful Willie Mays Aikens and Willie Wilson batting around Brett. The 1985 Royals have a lot of .250-range hitters -- Frank White, Steve Balboni, Jorge Orta and maybe McRae, lately hampered by a muscle pull in his side -- batting behind him. Brett gets pitched around often. Even so, he yet produces when it matters most.
"That's what the truly great players do," Howser said. "When a George Brett goes into a slump, you are concerned, but you don't worry. You know he'll be there when he has to. He always has been."
There is no mystery to Brett as a ballplayer. He is a driven competitor, a superb natural hitter, a good fielder and an excellent -- if not overly fast -- base runner.
But once off the field, Brett is something of an enigma. He can be utterly charming, making women blush with his blond, California good-looks and light blue eyes. He also can be surly, almost boorish. And he can be both -- charmer and boor -- within a matter of minutes.
Saturday, after his two-run homer ignited the Royals during their 10-inning, 5-4 pennant-clinching victory over the Oakland A's, Brett walked around the champagne-splashed clubhouse, shaking hands with teammates without so much as cracking a smile. Then, as the celebration continued, he retreated to the training room, which is off-limits to all but the players.
Brett stayed in there for almost 15 minutes while players, wives and club officials walked around asking each other, "Where's George?" He didn't come out until pitcher Bret Saberhagen charged into the training room and doused him with a bucket of beer.
A television camera appeared. Brett's smile also appeared. He did three straight television interviews, each eloquent and honest. "Last year I didn't feel as if I was that much a part of the team because I was hurt and missed a lot of games," he said. "This year, I played 156 and I'm tired, really tired. I'm emotionally tired, mentally tired, physically tired.
"But I'll tell you what: all the midnight flights, all the early wake-up calls, all of it is worth it for the feeling I have in my stomach right now. This is what you play the game for . . . to win, to feel what we're all feeling right now."
When Brett finally got back to his locker, a few reporters with notebooks waited. The smile dissipated. His hitting this week?
"One of those things."
Any key to it? "No."
Any way to explain it? "No."
There was an embarrassed silence for a moment, no one wanting to ask another question that would elicit another one-word answer. It was Saberhagen who broke the tension, once again materializing to pour a bucket of beer on Brett.
Brett's frozen face broke up again. "Why can't you leave a tired old man alone?" he said, laughing. "Jeez, Sabes, if you hadn't pitched so lousy tonight we wouldn't have had to work so hard to win the game. You sure aren't getting my Cy Young vote."
Saberhagen was looking for more beer to toss. "Who needs your vote?" he said. "Your vote doesn't count."
"Remember one thing," Brett said. "My vote counts the most."
A moment later, Saberhagen said softly, "He's right. In here, his vote does count the most."
Brett's teammates speak of him in reverent tones. So does his manager. The fans in Kansas City adore him. Opponents openly admire him.
"Brett's record speaks for itself," said Don Sutton, the California Angels' pitcher, after Brett homered off him Thursday during the Royals' vital 4-1 victory over the Angels. "When he hit the homer, I was trying to walk him. He wouldn't let me do it. If you shut him down, you beat the Royals, simple as that. But it's awful tough to do that."
"Too much Brett," Angels Manager Gene Mauch said. "We tried to pitch around him, we tried to pitch him careful. We tried everything. He just wouldn't let us do it."
Howser says that although the Yankees' Don Mattingly had one of the most phenomenal years in recent memory -- 35 home runs, 145 RBI, 48 doubles -- it was easier for him because of the strong New York lineup and because Yankee Stadium is built for a left-handed hitter.
"All George does is win," Howser said. "Without him, no way do we win the division title. Mattingly is a great player, but I don't think there's a better player in this league than George. That's this year, and year in and year out."
Brett has played on six division champions, one pennant winner and no World Series winners. He has won two batting titles, has a career batting average of .318 and has six playoff home runs -- tied with Reggie Jackson for the all-time lead. More than anything, though, he wants desperately to play on a world champion. In a career that has included virtually every honor available, that is the missing capstone.
"That's what I play for," Brett said. "This is the year we can do it . . . I can't even begin to imagine how good that would feel. That would really be a party."