Cubs’ Kris Bryant channels Hall of Fame third baseman to reach greater heights

LAS VEGAS — The best reason to believe Kris Bryant will have a better year in 2018 than in 2017?

George Brett. Not that he has ever met the Hall of Fame third baseman.

“George Brett used to say back in the day that even when he was 4-for-4 he always felt like he was not satisfied, because there was always something within that 4-for-4 that he thinks he could have done better,” said Mike Bryant, Kris’ dad, longtime hitting coach and life coach.

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Kris Bryant

In addition to Ted Williams’ theories on hitting, the Brett attitude was a lesson imparted by Mike, a former Red Sox farmhand, to his sons over the years.

Kris, in particular, seems to have absorbed the perfectionist model thoroughly.

In four successive baseball seasons, he was the national college player of the year, Baseball America minor-league player of the year, National League rookie of the year and, in 2016, National League MVP.

“It’s nice getting trophies four years in a row, but I realize it’s OK to kind of miss out on one here and there,” he said. “That doesn’t mean that there’s still not a bitter taste in my mouth that I wasn’t able to achieve those, just because I want to be the best player there is on the field each year. And when I don’t do that, it is sort of a failure to me.”

Failure?

“It’s just always been my attitude and how I look at things and look at life in general,” Kris said. “Even when I was in school, if I didn’t get an A in every class I was mad at myself, or an A on every test, I was mad because I strive for that.”

The thing about Bryant’s 2017 season is that it was anything but a failure. Despite hitting 10 fewer home runs (with 29 fewer RBI), he was a better hitter than in his MVP season — with fewer strikeouts, far more walks and career highs in on-base percentage and OPS.

He’s also one of the better base-runners in the league and showed continued improvement throwing from third base.

“I don’t think it’s impossible to think of him as a Gold Glove candidate,” said manager Joe Maddon, who described progress in several defensive areas over the last three years. “It’s just there’s so many good third basemen that would be holding him back. But athletically he’s capable of doing that.”

So why did the perception of his 2017 season seem to be such a downgrade from 2016? No All-Star selection, scrutiny over the RBI total and hitting with men in scoring position from the No. 2 spot in the order, and a finish behind Anthony Rendon in MVP voting.

“All they were paying attention to were the RBIs,” Mike Bryant said. “The expectations were high for the whole team, so that kind of spilled over individually to certain people. Kris was one of them.”

So what does it mean for Kris in 2018? Man on a mission? Chip on a shoulder?

“Not in a sense that ‘I’m going to show those guys,’ ” Mike said. “He just wants to do better every year. Didn’t Ted Williams win a triple crown one year [1941], and he didn’t get the MVP?

“He doesn’t let that bother him, but he lets it drive him.”

Kris doesn’t describe it exactly like that. But he does go back to Brett’s ethic.

“I don’t consider myself cocky, but every time I go on the field, I expect myself to be the best on the field. It doesn’t have to be just the MVP award or any of that. If I step off the field at the end of the year, and I tell myself that I wasn’t the best that year or that game, then I’m going to be disappointed in myself.”

Follow me on Twitter @GDubCub.

Email: gwittenmyer@suntimes.com