Contributed by Richard Cuicchi
Twenty-year-old Los Angeles Dodger Julio Urias made history in the NLCS by becoming the youngest pitcher to start a post-season game. The Dodgers hurler, who made his major-league debut in 2015, didn’t get past the fourth inning against his Chicago Cubs opponent, but it was still nonetheless a significant event for such a young, relatively inexperienced player.
Turning the calendar back almost fifty years, another young stud pitcher had an improbable post-season appearance. Ken Brett of the Boston Red Sox made two relief appearances in the 1967 World Series, when it was only 21 days after he had turned 19-years-old. He had made his regular season major-league debut only eleven days earlier. Most young, aspiring baseball players are still dreaming of being successful in professional baseball, much less actually playing in baseball’s biggest showcase.
Brett was a first-round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox in 1966, shortly after his graduation from high school. He was called up by the Red Sox in September 1967 after winning 14 games and posting a 1.95 ERA in the minors. A hard-throwing left-hander, he impressed veteran major leaguers who compared him to established fire-ballers of the day such as Sandy Koufax and Sam McDowell. Brett made his major league debut on September 27 when he pitched two innings against the Cleveland Indians.
When Brett joined the Red Sox in 1967, they were embroiled in one of the most exciting pennant races ever. They wound up beating out Detroit and Minnesota by one game to win the American League title, but Brett hadn’t initially been expected to be on the World Series roster. However, a spot opened up for Brett when a late-season arm injury sidelined Sparky Lyle, and Bill Landis was called up for military service.
The Red Sox faced the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, a repeat match of the two teams in 1946. With the Cardinals leading the Series 2-1, Brett saw his first action in Game Four, becoming the youngest pitcher to ever make a World Series appearance. The Cardinals were holding a decisive 6-0 lead, when Brett entered the game in the bottom of the eighth inning, as the fifth Red Sox pitcher of the game. He allowed only one baserunner in retiring the Cardinals with no runs.
The Red Sox evened the Series with victories in the next two games, setting up a showdown in Game Seven. However, the Cardinals took an early lead they never relinquished. Brett got another appearance in the ninth inning when he came into the game with the bases loaded and two outs and induced a groundout to end the inning.
Brett appeared to be headed for a promising major-league career. However, two weeks after the Series, he began a six-month tour of duty in the Army, as the Vietnam War was well underway. When he returned to baseball following his military service in 1968, he injured his elbow, perhaps trying to come back too soon after his layoff. The injury plagued him for the rest of his career.
He never did reach his full potential, even though he played in fourteen major-league seasons. He finished his career with an 83-85 won-lost record and 3.93 ERA in 349 games. He wound up playing for ten different major-league teams, with his best season coming in 1974 with Pittsburgh when he was selected for the National League All-Star Team. Brett retired from baseball in 1981 at age 32.
Ken Brett was the older brother of George Brett, the Hall of Fame third baseman for the Kansas City Royals from 1973 to 1993. They had two brothers, John and Bobby, who played briefly in the minor leagues.
Here are a few more World Series trivia items regarding players’ ages. The youngest player ever to appear in a World Series was third baseman Freddie Lindstrom, who was 18 years, 10 months and 13 days, in 1924 with the New York Giants. Andruw Jones was the Atlanta Braves’ starting centerfielder in the 1996 World Series at 19 years, 5 month, and 28 days. He batted .400 and hit two home runs in his first Series. Don Gullett was slightly older (19 years, 6 months, and 2 days) than Brett when he made his first of three World Series relief appearances in 1970 with the Cincinnati Reds.