Wednesday, July 24, 2013


Thirty years ago, one of the wackiest games started but wasn't officially completed. It spawned more morsels of trivia than the Lindbergh kidnapping, Kennedy assassination and O.J. trial combined.

Of course, it's the anniversary of The Pine-Tar Game.

On Sunday afternoon July 24, 1983, the Royals met the Yankees in New York. The Royals were in third place in the AL West at 44-45; the Yankees fourth in the AL East at 52-40. Bud Black (4-3) started for the Royals, Shane Rawley (9-8) for the Bombers.

The teams traded runs in the second inning before Kansas City added single runs in the fourth and sixth innings. In the bottom of the sixth, the Yankees grabbed the lead by scoring three runs, two on Don Baylor's triple. The Yankees held that 4-3 advantage going into the ninth.

Right-handed reliever Dale Murray was working his fourth inning and retired the first two Royals but allowed U.L. Washington's single to center field. 

That's when Rich Gossage entered to face George Brett, who already had two hits on the day and a history of turning around The Goose's fastball.

According to Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles' autobiography Balls, he and Manager Billy Martin had been monitoring Brett's pine-tar usage on his bats. They noticed it was in excess of the 18-inch limit, stretching down onto the barrel. They were waiting for the right opportunity to strike.

When Brett tattooed a high fastball and lost it in the right-field upper deck, giving the Royals a 5-4 lead, the opportunity presented itself. As Brett circled the bases, Martin yelled to catcher Rick Cerone to get the bat.

Upon retrieving it, Cerone assumed Martin wanted it checked for cork. He didn't see anything out of the ordinary and gave it to the Royals' bat boy. That's when Martin emerged from the dugout to tell home-plate umpire Tim McClelland to check it for an illegal substance (pine tar) on the barrel.

After the umpires conferred and measured the bat against the plate, which is 17-inches wide, they reached a verdict: Brett was using an illegal bat, according to Rule 1.10(c), which at the time stated, "A bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle.''

With Brett in the dugout looking slightly agitated, McClelland pointed at him with the bat in one hand and gave the out sign with the other (the fluidity of those two movements still cracks me up). 

Brett went bat shit, springing from the dugout like his World Series hemorrhoids flared. With arms flailing, he drew a bead on McClelland. He looked like he had ingested dangerous amounts of greenies and Sanka. Royals manager Dick Howser was right behind Brett, who was grabbed by second-base umpire Joe Brinkman to prevent a murder-career-suicide in one fell swoop.

In addition to Brett and Howser, Royals pitcher Gaylord Perry was ejected for trying to confiscate the bat after the game. Howser filed a protest, but the 33,944 fans who left Yankee Stadium assumed the game was over. Four days later, AL President Lee McPhail upheld the protest, suspending the game until Aug. 18. He correctly ruled the pine tar did not give Brett an unfair advantage.

McPhail also was acting on precedence. In a 1975 game between the Royals and Angels, he backed the umpiring crew who ruled that John Mayberry's contested homer should be allowed even though his pine-tarred bat violated Rule 1.10(c), which was originally established to keep balls from becoming marked by the gooey, sticky substance.

The Pine-Tar Game officially ended 25 days later with 1,200 in attendance at The Stadium, but not without some more shenanigans from Martin. He had pitcher George Frazier throw the first ball to first to appeal that Brett missed the bag. After getting the safe sign from Dave Phillips, who didn't umpire the Pine-Tar Game, Frazier threw to second base to appeal that neither Washington nor Brett touched that bag. 

Again, the safe sign was given.

Martin jumped out of the dugout, and Phillips was ready for him. Phillips produced a notarized affidavit in which the original four-man crew proclaimed Brett touched each base. Brett wasn't even in New York; because he was ejected, he watched the game at a restaurant near Newark Airport before the team left to play in Baltimore the next day.

Martin filed his own protest and retreated to the clubhouse to watch Barney Miller on the tube as Frazier struck out Hal McRae for the third out. Incidentally, for that third of an inning, Martin had ace Ron Guidry in center and left-hander Don Mattingly at second. Mattingly was the first and last lefty to play second since Sam McDowell was moved from the mound for one batter in 1970. 

Closer Dan Quisenberry retired the Yankees in order, getting Mattingly, whose 25-game hitting streak was snapped, Roy Smalley and Oscar Gamble for save No. 24 in the 5-4 victory.  

Brett's bat has been on display at the Baseball Hall of Fame since 1987. Surprisingly, the 2-hour and 52-minute game doesn't run on a loop inside all Ripley's Believe It or Not! museums.

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