George Brett took over as the Kansas City Royals' interim hitting coach with the rudderless team mired in an eight-game skid. He leaves with them showing signs of life.
The Hall of Famer announced Thursday that he was stepping down from his on-field job and returning to the Royals' front office, where he's served as vice president of baseball operations since retiring as a player following the 1993 season.
"George did an incredible job," general manager Dayton Moore said in a statement. "His expertise as a baseball man and his passion to win will have an everlasting effect on our team. I'm thrilled that he will be more involved in all aspects of baseball operations."
Brett has helped out at spring training for years, but his stint as the interim hitting coach was the first time in 20 years he'd put on his familiar No. 5 jersey for games that counted.
The Royals were hitting just .261 when he assumed the job along with Pedro Grifol, who will stay on as the permanent hitting coach. The team was averaging four runs a game and ranked near the bottom of the American League in just about every statistical offensive category.
They were 21-29 and in danger of falling out of contention by June.
Well, the team's batting average has actually fallen to .255 since Brett and Grifol took over, but the offense is no longer stagnant. Young cornerstones such as Eric Hosmer have started to hit - he had two homers in Wednesday night's win over Baltimore — and there's a sense that the Royals could still be clinging to playoff contention entering August.
With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, they were 47-51 and eight games behind Detroit in the AL Central heading into Thursday night's series finale against the Orioles.
"My lifelong passion after playing was not to be a hitting coach, but Dayton asked me if I would consider it, and I did, but only on the promise that it would be on an interim basis," Brett said in a statement. "There is a ton of talent here and doing this for almost two months has prepared me to be a better adviser to Dayton and his staff."
Still, Brett took to his job with relish after finally agreeing to a monthlong tryout that ultimately lasted eight weeks. He arrived at the ballpark early and was easy to spot in the cages before games, overseeing early batting practice with the young players.
He said at the time of his hiring May 30 that he always found the game easier to do than say — that is, he found it natural to play and difficult to instruct. But the guys in the clubhouse almost universally praised him for the job he'd done, particularly on the mental side, where he helped an uptight bunch of Royals start playing like they were kids again.
Page 2 of 2 - "This has been an unbelievable experience for me," Brett said, "and now I'm energized to contribute more to this organization as I return to my non-uniformed role."
While Brett was fixing that part of the Royals, Grifol was doing the behind-the-scenes work on players' mechanics, poring over video and tinkering with their swings.
The 43-year-old began his first season with the Royals as the hitting coach of the Surprise Royals. Before that, he was a manager for Class-A High Desert in the Seattle organization, and had worked as an area scout, manager and minor league director over the past 13 seasons.
Now, Grifol has the chance to make a name for himself as the permanent hitting coach.