Brett is the man at the center of “The Pine Tar Game.”
George Brett’s Pine Tar Incident
It was July 24, 1983, and the Royals were facing the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium. It was the top of the ninth inning and the Royals had accumulated two outs. New York was up 4-3 and had elite reliever Goose Gossage on the mound.
Brett was at the plate, and U.L. Washington was on first base. As he had done many times before, Brett delivered. Namely, he hit a two-run home run that put the Royals up 5-4 on the Yankees. Brett’s home run had rescued the Royals from the jaws of defeat…or so we thought.
As Brett and his teammates celebrated, indelible Yankees manager Billy Martin made his way to home plate for a chit-chat with umpire Tim McClelland. Martin asserted that Brett’s bat was slathered with more pine tar than the rulebook allowed.
Pine tar was ostensibly used to give batters a batter grip on the bat. However, many hitters believed that when pine tar hardened on your bat, it made it stronger and more effective. You could see helmets, gloves, and bats caked in the stuff, and Brett particularly loved him some pine tar. Perhaps too much.
Home plate umpire Tim McClelland got his hands on Brett’s bat to see if it broke MLB’s pine tar rule. The rule said that a foreign substance, such as pine tar, could only extend 18 inches from the nob of the bat.
You might think McClelland would have some sort of tool of measurement on hand, but instead he merely laid the bat down across home plate, which measures 17 inches, and eyeballed it. This was enough for him to declare that the bat indeed had too much pine tar on it and Brett was ruled out.
That meant no home run, which meant that the game was over and the Yankees had won 4-3.
Unsurprisingly, Brett did not take this cheerfully. He charged out of the dugout with a look of fury on his face usually only seen these days when somebody spoils a Marvel movie.
The fiery future Hall of Famer had to be restrained by Royals manager Dick Howser. Brett’s freakout is one of the more infamous moments in baseball history. It’s also a ton of fun.
Pine Tar Game Aftermath
Have you ever heard about a team protesting the end result of a game? Doesn’t it feel like it never comes to anything and the whole thing feels pointless? Don’t tell that to the 1983 Royals.
They protested the outcome of this game and the American League President Lee MacPhail actually upheld the protest four days later. His assessment was that the spirit of the rule was not about pine tar causing an unfair advantage, but pine tar being able to mar baseballs and render them unusable.
MacPhail ruled that Brett’s home run counted, the Royals were up 5-4, and the game needed to be resumed and completed.
The Yankees dragged things out a bit, but eventually the two teams took the field to finish what they started on August 18. However, the Royals were without Brett, Howser or Gaylord Perry — all of whom had been retroactively ejected by MacPhail for their actions in the wake of the pine tar incident (Perry had given the bat to a bat boy to hide it).
Martin, always a rabble rouser, had no patience for how things had played out. In protest he put pitcher Ron Guidry in center field and first baseman Don Mattingly at second base for the resumption of the top of the ninth inning. Mattingly became the first lefty to play second base since 1970.
Martin wasn’t done, as before the first pitch of the day he protested himself, saying that Brett had not touched all the bases when he hit his home run. MLB was prepared for this, though. Umpire Davey Phillips bestowed an affidavit for Martin from the umpiring crew of the July 24 game stating that Brett had touched all the bases.
At this point, Martin was done being as close to patient as he ever got, and was ejecting for arguing.
From that point on, an actual baseball game could happen. Yankees pitcher George Frazier struck out Hal McRae to end the top of the ninth, 25 days after the inning had begun.
In the bottom of the ninth Royals closer Dan Quisenberry mowed down three Yankees batters without letting anybody on base, preserving the win for the Royals. Oh, by the way, neither of these teams ended up making the playoffs.
All this commotion amounted to very little.
As for Brett, he would play with the Royals until he retired in 1993, including leading them to a World Series in 1985. He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999, where he has been reunited with an old friend.
His pine tar bat? The one that started all of this? It’s in Cooperstown as well.