Baseball and Pine Tar Bats
George Brett who was named to the Hall of Fame was the star of one of the
“hairiest” occurrences in the history of baseball. Ingredients? Some pine tar,
a home run, and the rule book.
The “Pine Tar” game was difficult for most involved, but Brett remembers the
incident in fondly. When Brett had made a run at a .400 batting average in
1980 and helped Kansas City to the American League pennant, he suffered from
hemorrhoids during the World Series against the Philadelphia Phillies. There
were no shortage of reminders for him over the next few years of his amazing
Brent remembers, “Every time I got in the on-deck circle, every time I went
someplace, everybody always had to make the wisecrack about hemorrhoids.”
Thankfully, that ill repute was obliterated when he hit the pine tar home run
three years later.
“Ever since July 24, 1983, now I’m the pine-tar guy. What would you rather be
remembered as? So, in all honesty, it was the greatest thing that ever
happened in my career.”
The debate began on July 24, 1983, in Yankee Stadium, when Brett hit a
two-out, two-run homer off Goose Gossage in the ninth inning that gave the
Royals a 5-4 lead. The two had previously played against one another in the
intense post-season rivalry between Brett’s Royals and Gossage’s Yankees three
years prior. Brett had hit a home run into Yankee Stadium’s upper-deck off
Goose in Game Three of the 1980 American League Championship Series to seal a
three-game sweep of the Yankees. Although in this game, the stakes weren’t as
high, the drama that unfolded became legend.
Brett’s homer came with teammate U.L. Washington on first base with two outs,
and gave the Royals an obvious 5-4 lead. Just after crossing the plate and
entering the dugout, Brett saw Yankee manager Billy Martin approach home plate
umpire Tim McClelland. Soon, McClelland called for Brett's bat from the his
team’s dugout and conferred with his umpiring crew at home plate. Brett
watched inquisitively from the bench while Martin looked on. Moments later,
McClelland threw his arm in the air and signaled that Brett was dismissed from
the game due to his extreme use of pine tar on his bat, canceling the home run
and ending the game.
Brett jumped up from his position in the dugout in a fit of anger and had to
be subdued by everyone around him including his teammates and umpire crew
chief Joe Brinkman. McClelland had cited rule 1.10(b) – “a bat may not be
covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle.”
He stated that Brett’s bad had pine tar approximately 19 to 20 inches from the
tip of the handle and had measured this against home plate, which is 17 inches
across including a one-inch border.
Even though Brett and his team manager Dick Howser protested profusely, the
ruling stood. Brett was tossed out of the game and the home run had been
rejected which gave the Yankees a 4-3 win. Martin had realized Brett was
breaking the rule earlier in the season when the Yankee’s third baseman Graig
Nettles pointed it out to him. Nettles noticed the tar on Brett’s bat in
Kansas City. Martin had stated that he didn’t want to call Brett on it if he
made an out, but when he made the home run, Martin reported it. Martin had
helped his team escape the home run and win the game. Or so they thought.
Consequently, the Royals disputed the baseball game, while the event earned
national attention. Eventually A.L. President Lee MacPhail (himself a future
Hall-of-Famer) overturned McClelland's decision and re-instated Brett's
winning home run. Recognizing that Brett had pine tar too high on the bat,
McPhail said that it was the league's belief that "games should be won and
lost on the playing field - not through technicalities of the rules." MacPhail
stated that a distinction should be made between using an altered bat which
makes the ball go farther, and using a bat which had excessive pine tar aiding
in grip. Since he didn’t wear batting gloves, Brett had the sticky substance
high on his bat because he would regularly tap his hands on the pine tar spot
to help secure his grip.
The Yankees were clearly upset by MacPhail’s ruling, and the resulting loss,
which put them into a tie for first place. “A rule is a rule is a rule,”
Yankees’ outfielder Lou Piniella said, a belief shared by all his teammates.
MacPhail ordered the game to continue on August 18 (a scheduled off day for
each team), at the point following Brett's home run with the Royals leading
5-4. Martin continued to protest MacPhail’s decision. When the game was
resume, before Yankee’s pitcher George Frazier could even throw the pitch to
batter Hal McRae, Martin challenged that Brett hadn’t even touched all the
bases when he hit the original home run nearly a month prior. The Yankees
argued that the current umpiring crew couldn’t be sure if Brett had circled
the bases legally since they were not the same umpires officiating the
original game. Despite this stall tactic by Martin, crew chief Davey Phillips
was ready. Phillips produced a signed affidavit from the four members of
Brinkman’s crew, stating that Brett and the baserunner ahead of him
(Washington) had indeed touched all the bases in the original game.
The issue was dismissed, but not before Martin was ejected from the game due
to excessive arguing with the umpires. After the Royals’ third out of the top
of the frame, the bottom of the ninth inning was recorded without incident,
and the Royals won 5-4. The completion of the game had taken 12 minutes and 16
pitches to complete, with Dan Quisenberry securing the save in a game that saw
Yankee’s feature pitcher Ron Guidry in center field and rookie
outfielder/first baseman Don Mattingly (a left hander!) at second base. As it
turns out, Brett wasn’t even at the game conclusion, avoiding the drama that
his home run had started. He was on a plane at Newark Airport with other team
officials who didn’t make the trip to Yankee Stadium. The Royals were
scheduled to be in Baltimore for a series which began the next day.
The “Pine Tar Bat” has become a famed reminder of that unusual game and the
controversy caused by it.