The 1983 season was an up and down one for the Yankees. But on July 24, things were on the upside. They were positioned to take over first place as they prepared to play the Royals of Kansas City at Yankee Stadium.
The game that was played that day was fairly ordinary. As it moved to the top of the ninth inning, the Yankees had a 4-3 lead. The Royals came to bat in the top of the ninth. No one could have forecast what would come next.
There were two outs. Goose Gossage was one out away from the wrap up of the Yankee victory. George Brett had other ideas. Home run, into the stands in right field!
The Royal superstar ran out the homer that had apparently given his team a 5-4 lead. But just seconds after crossing the plate and going into his dugout, Brett saw Yankee manager Billy Martin approach home plate rookie umpire Tim McClelland.
"I was feeling pretty good about myself after hitting the homer," Brett said. "I was sitting in the dugout. Somebody said they were checking the pine tar, and I said, 'If they call me out for using too much pine tar, I'm going to kill one of those SOBs.'"
McClelland called to the Royal dugout and asked to see Brett's bat. Then he conferred with his umpiring crew. Martin watched from a few feet away. Brett looked out from the bench. Then McClelland thrust his arm in the air. It was the signal that indicated George Brett was out - - excessive use of pine tar on his bat.
McClelland had brought forth rule 1.10(b): "a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle." The umpire ruled that Brett's bat had "heavy pine tar" 19 to 20 inches from the tip of the handle and lighter pine tar for another three or four inches.
The home run was disallowed. The game was over. The Yankees were declared 4-3 winners. Brett, enraged, raced out of the dugout. Then mayhem and fury took center stage. Brett, not your calmest player, lost it.
At one point, umpire Joe Brinkman had Brett in a choke hold. That was the easy part for the Royal superstar. The next thing that happened to him was that he was ejected from the game and went berserk. Others did, too.
Royals pitcher Gaylord Perry grabbed the bat from McClelland who tossed it to Hal McRae who passed it on to pitcher Steve Renko who was halfway up the tunnel to the team clubhouse. Then Yankee Stadium security guards grabbed him and grabbed the bat which was then impounded.
The Royals lodged a protest of the Yankee victory. The Yankees went off to Texas where they won three games and took over first place for the first time that season.
The almost comical mess was debated by baseball fans all over the nation. The media couldn't get enough of it. "Why a .356 hitter like George Brett," Time Magazine commented would lumber along with a Marv Throneberry Model (lifetime .237) is the sort of paradox that, scientists say, has trees talking to themselves."
Eventually American League president Lee McPhail over-turned McClelland's decision. Acknowledging that Brett had pine tar too high on the bat, McPhail explained that it was the league's belief that "game's should be won and lost on the playing field-not through technicalities of the rules."
Yankee owner George Steinbrenner was miffed. "I wouldn't want to be Lee MacPhail living in New York!" he snapped.
The Brett home run was re-instated. The Royals' protest was upheld. The contest was declared "suspended." Both teams were told to find a mutually agreeable time, continue playing the game and conclude it.
The date was August 18th. Play was resumed for the last four outs of a game that had begun on July 24th. The Yankees, strangely anxious to make a few more bucks, announced they would charge regular admission for the game's continuation. There were fan mumblings of protest. The Yankees quietly changed the charging admission idea. It was too late and to no avail. Only 1,200 fans showed up.
The atmosphere was bizarre. To show their rage and annoyance at the whole turn of events, the Yankees for the final out of the top of the ninth played pitcher Ron Guidry in centerfield and outfielder Don Mattingly (a lefthander) at second base. Guidry played center field because the Yankees had traded away Jerry Mumphrey, who had come into the game for defensive purposes. New York's George Frazier struck out McRae for the third out. In the bottom of the ninth Royals' reliever Dan Quisenberry was able to retire the Yankees in order.
The "Pine tar Game(s)" belonged to history.
2011 marks Harvey Frommer's 36th consecutive year of writing sports books. A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 41 sports books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and "Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE STADIUM, an oral/narrative history was published in 2008. Frommer's newest work is REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK - (http://harveyfrommersports.com/remembering_fenway/)
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