Sunday, July 24, 2016

July 24, 1983: The crazy "pine tar" game

Back in the summer of 1983,  I caught the hightlights of the Royals vs Yankees "pine tar game" on ESPN.    
It did not make sense, or the idea that a homerun would be invalidated because of pine tar on the bat.   
This is how it was covered by The New York Times:
Baseball games often end with home runs, but until today the team that hit the home run always won. At Yankee Stadium today, the team that hit the home run lost. If that unusual development produced a sticky situation, blame it on pine tar. With two out in the ninth inning, George Brett of the Kansas City Royals hit a two-run home run against Rich Gossage that for several minutes gave the Royals a 5‚4 lead over the Yankees. But Brett was called out by the umpires for using an illegal bat-one with an excessive amount of pine tar. The ruling, after a protest by Billy Martin, the Yankees' manager, enabled the Yankees to wind up with a 4‚3 victory.
"I can sympathize with George," Gossage remarked after the game, "but not that much." The outcome, which the Royals immediately protested, is certain to be talked about for years to come, because it was one of the more bizarre finishes any game has ever had. "I couldn't believe it," Brett said, infinitely more calm than when he charged at the umpires after their controversial call. "It knocks you to your knees," added Dick Howser, the Kansas City manager. "I'm sick about it. I don't like it. I don't like it at all. I don't expect my players to accept it."
What the Royals refused to believe or accept was that the umpires ruled the home run did not count because Brett's bat had too much pine tar on it. Pine tar is a sticky brown substance batters apply to their bats to give them a better grip. Baseball rule 1.10 (b) says a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle. Joe Brinkman, the chief of the crew that umpired the game, said 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 umpire did not use a ruler to measure the pine tar on Brett's 341/2-inch bat; they didn't have one. So they placed it across home plate, which measures 17 inches across. When they did, they saw that the pine tar exceeded the legal limit. The four umpires conferred again, and then Tim McClelland, the home plate umpire, thrust his right arm in the air, signaling that Brett was out. His call prompted two reactions:
Brett, enraged, raced out of the dugout and looked as if he would run over McClelland. Brinkman, however, intercepted him, grabbing him around the neck. "In that situation," Brinkman said later, "you know something's going to happen. It was quite traumatic. He was upset." Meanwhile, Gaylord Perry of the Royals, who has long been accused of doing illegal things with a baseball, tried to swipe the evidence, according to Brinkman. "Gaylord got the bat and passed it back and tried to get it to the clubhouse," Brinkman said. "The security people went after it, but I got in there and got it. Steve Renko, another Kansas City pitcher, had it. He was the last in line. He didn't have anyone to hand it to."
Why the stadium security men went after the bat was not clear. "I didn't know what was going on," Howser said. "I saw guys in sport coats and ties trying to intercept the bat. It was like a Brink's robbery. Who's got the gold? Our players had it, the umpires had it. I don't know who has it-the C.I.A., a think tank at the Pentagon." The umpires declined to show the bat, which they said was on its way to the American League office. Presumably, Lee MacPhail, the league president, will study the bat and measure the pine tar tomorrow, then rule on the Royals' protest.
Thankfully, the AL president reversed the decision.    They finished the game on a future date and KC won because of the Brett home run!    
The "pine tar" game was the last chapter in the Yankees-Royals rivalry.  It started with very intense post season series that saw New York beat Kansas City in 1976, 1977 and 1978.    KC finally beat NY in 1980 but most of the players were still around when the "pine tar game" happened in 1983.      

In other words, these two teams did not like each other at all.


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