Those of you in the reading audience who enjoy a good, sports-related book will likely enjoy a new book by Filip Bondy called “The Pine Tar Game: The Kansas City Royals, the New York Yankees and Baseball’s Most Absurd and Entertaining Controversy.”
Released on Tuesday of last week by Scribner, this book details the events leading up to and the fallout resulting from one of the most famous incidents in baseball history, 1983’s George Brett-Pine Tar Incident.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with this incident, here’s the 10-cent version. During the 1983 season, Kansas City third baseman George Brett was arguably the most feared batter of his generation, and the Royals and Yankees were heated American League rivals. The two teams met at Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1984 and in the top of the ninth inning, with his team behind, 4-3, and with U.L. Washington on first, Brett hit a towering home run off of future Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage.
When Washington and Brett crossed home plate, the Royals won, 5-4, right? Normally, that would be the case, but not in this instance. As soon as Brett crossed home, Yankees manager Billy Martin (a controversial and unusual character in his own right) came onto the playing field and asked home plate umpire Tim McClelland to examine Brett’s bat. While this is going on, Brett’s already taken a seat in the dugout.
After a brief discussion with Martin and then a conference amongst the umpires, baseball history was made. McClelland raised a clinched fist and called Brett out, giving the Yankees what appeared to be a 4-3 win. What followed was nothing short of epic when Brett charged out of the dugout like a giant runaway bull and had to be restrained by his teammates and umpire Joe Brinkman, who put Brett in a headlock.
(If you want to get the full effect of all this, I suggest you search for “Pine Tar Incident” on YouTube and watch the whole thing. It’s pretty wild.)
As it turns out, Martin had told McClelland that Brett’s bat was in violation of an obscure rule that said that pine tar could not be applied more than 18 inches from the handle end of the bat. Big League players use pine tar to improve their grip on the bat, and Brett was notorious for putting a lot of it on his bat, including well above the 18-inch line.
In “The Pine Tar Game,” Bondy goes into great detail about this game, the heated Royals-Yankees rivalry, how the “Pine Tar Rule” was interpreted and applied, how McClelland’s ruling was appealed and the resulting lawsuits. In the end, American League officials ruled that McClelland had misapplied the “Pine Tar Rule.” He should have had the bat removed from the game and shouldn’t have called Brett out.
League officials ordered the Yankees and Royals to finish the game on Aug. 18 and the game resumed from the point of Brett’s home run. When the teams took the field nearly a month after the Pine Tar Incident, they looked a lot different, in fact, due to trades and injuries, some of the original players weren’t even on the teams any more. Others who were ejected due to the melee following the “Pine Tar Incident” also weren’t on the field. Long story short, the Royals ended up winning, 5-4, but believe me when I say that there’s a lot more to the story, and you can read all about it in Bondy’s great new book.