COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. – No one has done it since Ted Williams in 1941. The .400 season batting average has remained unattainable for even the game's best hitters.
But in 1980, the Kansas City Royals' third baseman, George Brett, came as close as anyone has. His season-ending .390 average was the highest until that point since Williams' .406 nearly four decades prior.
Thirty-one years ago this week, Brett's average topped .400 for the first time that summer. On Aug. 17, 1980, Brett went 4-for-4 against the Toronto Blue Jays to raise his average to .401.
On that day, Brett extended his consecutive game hit streak to 29 games. He singled in the third and fifth innings, hit a two-run double in the seventh and added a bases-loaded double in the eighth, leading the Royals to an 8-3 victory.
After Brett's fourth and final hit of the day, fans at Royals Stadium recognized the significance of what they had just witnessed.
"It was simply electrifying," Brett said. "Standing on second base and having all these people cheer when I got my fourth hit and went over the .400 mark."
Brett's hit streak ended at 30 games two days later. But his average continued to climb. On Aug. 20, in a game where Brett went 3-for-3, his average reached a career high .406.
One month later, Brett's average dropped below .400 and would never be that high again. When the regular season ended on Oct. 5, Brett had an average of .390. But his days above the .400 mark in September mark the latest any player has been at .400 since Williams completed his historic 1941 season.
Despite missing the .400 mark, Brett had the best season of his career. He led the Kansas City Royals to their first American League pennant and World Series appearance, before falling to Philadelphia in the Fall Classic.
Brett was named the 1980 American League Most Valuable Player. He was the first player in Kansas City Royals history to receive the honor.
"I am very honored with the award," Brett said in 1980. "Individual honors come at the end of the season, and during the season I try to make my team the best in baseball. We achieved that, at least almost achieved that."
In addition to his .390 batting average, Brett led the league in slugging (.664) and on base percentage (.461), despite having missed 44 games during the 1980 season due to injury. Brett also knocked in 118 runs on the season, setting a new Royals record.
Brett retired from baseball in 1993, having spent his entire career with the Royals. He was the first player in baseball history to collect 3,000 hits, 300 home runs, 600 doubles, 100 triples, 1,500 RBIs and 200 stolen bases.
Brett was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame on July 25, 1999. He was elected by the Baseball Writers Association of America with 98.18 percent of the vote.
Nicole Pappas was the public relations intern in the Class of 2011 Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program