George Brett's quest for .400, batting's holy grail, fell short 35 years ago

George Brett hit .390 with 24 home runs and a career-high 118 RBIs in 1980. Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Saturday marks the 35th anniversary of the last time a batting-title-eligible player had a .400 batting average this late in the season.

On Sept. 19, 1980, Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett went 2-for-4 in a 13-3 win over the Oakland Athletics to put his average at .39950.

This isn't technically .400 in the eyes of baseball's official statisticians, the Elias Sports Bureau, but to baseball fans at the time, it was. (He went 0-for-4 the next day, falling to .396.)

Regardless, no one since then has come as close to hitting .400 as Brett did. The .400 mark has become one of those legendary milestones that are unlikely to ever be touched again, right alongside a 56-game hitting streak and a 30-win season for pitchers.

The last player to hit .400 was Ted Williams, who hit .406 in 1941.

Here are a few of the most interesting anecdotes and nuggets that we've found regarding the chase for .400 and Brett's near miss.

Brett's amazing 1980 season

Brett's 1980 campaign is one of the greatest in baseball in the past 40 years.

He finished at .390, leading the major leagues in average, on-base percentage (.454) and slugging percentage (.664). His 1.118 OPS was more than 100 points better than anyone else's that season.

And though he didn't hit .400 ...

• He hit .437 with 118 hits and six strikeouts in 270 at-bats against right-handed pitching.

• From May 30 to August 30 (a stretch that included a stint on the DL), Brett hit .470 (!) with 116 hits in 61 games (in which the Royals went 46-15). He hit .494 in the month of July.

• He hit .469 with 61 hits and five strikeouts with runners in scoring position.

• He hit .421 in the first five innings of games.

• He hit .425 with 22 RBIs in 10 games against the Yankees. That was foreshadowing for the postseason, when his three-run home run against Rich Gossage in Game 3 of the ALCS helped put the Royals into the World Series.

Williams' .400 season in 1941

Williams entered a doubleheader against the Philadelphia Athletics on the final day of the season hitting .39955. Had he sat, it would have caused some consternation, given the rules about rounding we noted above.

Williams solved that by going 6-for-8 in the doubleheader (including 4-for-5 in Game 1) to finish at the now-famous .406. Unlike Brett, Williams had a .400 or better batting average for most of the season. July 24 was the latest date his rounded-up average was under .400.

Despite Williams' amazing batting average, he didn't win MVP. That's because another remarkable batting feat -- Joe DiMaggio's 56-game hitting streak -- took place that same season. DiMaggio won the MVP, and the Yankees won the World Series. Williams finished second in MVP voting.

The other last great chase: Tony Gwynn in 1994

The closest anyone has come to finishing with a .400 average since Williams was Tony Gwynn, who hit .394 in 1994, a season ended early by a work stoppage.

The latest Gwynn was at .400 was at the end of play on May 15. He spent most of June, July and early August hovering in the .380s and .390s. The strike began on Aug. 12 and wiped out the rest of the season. Gwynn's San Diego Padres lost 45 games.

Gwynn finished with 419 at-bats and would have needed to have gone 35-for-81 (.432) to be at .400 when he reached 500 at-bats. That would have been difficult but not impossible, given Gwynn's skills with the bat (it should be noted he went 24-for-55 to start the 1995 season, a stretch that would have bumped his 1994 average to .399). We'll never know if he could have done it.

.400 of a different nature

Bob "Hurricane" Hazle hit .403 with the 1957 Milwaukee Braves, but his 155 plate appearances were less than one-third of the number required to qualify for the batting title. His 134 at-bats were the most by any player who finished at .400 since Williams did it in 1941.

Hazle couldn't make his success last. He hit .211 the next year, which was his last in the majors.

Do current players have a chance?

Forget .400. Even getting within 50 points is a challenge for major leaguers these days, given the high number of strikeouts and the shortage of hitters with the skills of Gwynn or Wade Boggs (or even Ichiro Suzuki in his prime). This year will mark the fifth straight in which both batting champions finished sub-.350. That's the longest drought of .350+ batting champs since 1962-66.

Miami's Dee Gordon carried his .400 batting average deeper into the year than anyone else this season, but his last day at that mark was May 19.

An earlier version of this story had the incorrect opponent for Boston's season-ending doubleheader in 1941.