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The controversial Pine Tar Incident (also known as the Pine Tar Game) took place in an American League game played between the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees on July 24, 1983.

Contents

The incident

Playing at New York's Yankee Stadium, the Royals were trailing 4-3 with two outs in the top of the ninth and U. L. Washington on first base. In the on-deck circle, George Brett was heard remarking to a teammate, "Watch this baby fly" as he shook his bat. He then came to the plate and connected off Yankee reliever Rich "Goose" Gossage for a two-run home run and a 5–4 lead.

As Brett crossed the plate, New York manager Billy Martin approached rookie home plate umpire Tim McClelland and requested that Brett's bat be examined. Earlier in the season, Martin and other members of the Yankees had noticed the amount of pine tar used by Brett, but Martin had chosen not to say anything[1] until the home run. One of the Yankees, third baseman Graig Nettles, recalled a similar incident involving Thurman Munson in a 1975 game against the Minnesota Twins.[2] According to Nettles' autobiography, Balls, Nettles claims that he actually informed Martin of the pine tar rule, as Nettles had previously undergone the same scrutiny with his own bat while with the Twins.

With Brett watching from the dugout, McClelland and the rest of the umpiring crew inspected the bat. Measuring the bat against the width of home plate (which is 17 inches), they determined that the amount of pine tar on the bat's handle exceeded that allowed by Rule 1.10(b) of the Major League Baseball rule book, which read that "a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle."

The baseball bat used by Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett in the Pine Tar Incident on July 24, 1983.

McClelland searched for Brett in the visitors' dugout, pointed at him, and signaled that he was out, his home run nullified and the game over. An enraged Brett stormed out of the dugout to confront McClelland, and had to be physically restrained by Kansas City manager Dick Howser and his teammates. (As one commentator stated, "Brett has become the first player in history to hit a game-losing home run.") Despite the furious protests of Brett and Howser, McClelland's ruling stood.

Due to fear that the bat would be taken to the American League office for inspection, Gaylord Perry then gave Brett's bat to the batboy who was chased into the clubhouse by security.

Protest and reversal

The Royals protested the game, and their protest was officially heard by American League President Lee MacPhail, who overruled McClelland's decision and restored Brett's home run.

At the time, MLB Rule 1.10(b) stated: "The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from the end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. Any such material or substance, which extends past the 18-inch limitation, shall cause the bat to be removed from the game." However, the rule did not indicate any possible penalty for the batter, or even if one was permitted. Citing this, McClelland (urged on by Billy Martin) invoked "The Umpire's Prerogative", Rule 9.01(c), which states "Each umpire has authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in these rules."

However, in explaining his decision, MacPhail noted that the "spirit of the restriction" on pine tar on bats was based not on the fear of unfair advantage, but simple economics; any contact with pine tar would render a ball unsuitable for play, and require that it be discarded and replaced, thus increasing the home team's cost of supplying balls for a given game. MacPhail ruled that since Brett had not violated the spirit of the rules nor deliberately "altered [the bat] to improve the distance factor", McClelland's on-field invocation of Rule 9.01(c) was inappropriate, unnecessary, and disproportionate to the offense; the bat should have been simply removed from the game and play resumed (as stated by 1.10(b)) rather than revoking Brett's home run, summarily ejecting him, and awarding the game to the Yankees.

MacPhail ordered the game resumed with two out in the top of the ninth inning with the Royals up 5-4. He also ruled that Brett was to be ejected for his outburst against McClelland. Dick Howser was also ejected for arguing with the umpires and Gaylord Perry was ejected for giving the bat to the batboy so he could hide it in the clubhouse.

Conclusion

The Yankees made one last counter-appeal, but to no avail. On August 18 (a scheduled off day for both teams), the game was resumed from the point of Brett's home run, with about 1,200 fans in attendance. On paper the scoring of the incident reads as follows: a home run for Brett, on the play Brett, Gaylord Perry, Rocky Colavito, and manager Dick Howser were ejected, game suspended with two outs in the top of the ninth.

A still furious Martin symbolically protested the continuation of the game by putting pitcher Ron Guidry in center field and first baseman Don Mattingly at second base. Mattingly, a lefty, became a rare Major League southpaw second baseman; no left-hander has played second base or shortstop in a big-league game since (as of 2009).

Before the first pitch to Hal McRae (who followed Brett in the lineup), Martin challenged Brett's home run on the grounds that Brett had not touched all the bases, and maintained that there was no way for the umpires (a different crew than the one who worked July 24) to dispute this. But umpire Davey Phillips was ready for Martin, producing an affidavit signed by the July 24 umpires stating that Brett had indeed touched all the bases. As he exited the umpires announced that the game was being played under protest by the Yankees. Yankees reliever George Frazier struck McRae out to finally end the top of the ninth, twenty-five days after it had begun. Dan Quisenberry then got New York out 1-2-3 in the bottom of the ninth to preserve the Royals' 5–4 win.

The bat is currently on display in the Baseball Hall of Fame, where it has been since 1987. During a broadcast of Mike & Mike in the Morning, ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian stated that Brett used the bat for a few games after the incident until being cautioned that the bat would be worthless if broken. Brett sold the bat to famed collector and then partial owner of the Yankees, Barry Halper, for $25,000[1], had second thoughts, repurchased the bat for the same amount from the collector and then donated the bat to the Hall of Fame. The home run ball was caught and sold by journalist Ephraim Schwartz to Halper for $500 plus 12 Yankees tickets[3], as well as Schwartz' ticket stub[2]. Halper also acquired the signed business card of Orest V. Maresca, the magistrate who made the initial ruling in the ensuing controversy, and the can of Oriole Pine Tar from which Brett used on the bat. Gossage later signed the pine tar ball "Barry, I threw the fucking thing." [3]

The winning pitcher for the Royals was reliever Mike Armstrong, who went 10–7 that year in 58 appearances, notching career highs in wins and games. In a 2006 interview, Armstrong said an angry Yankees fan threw a brick from an overpass at Kansas City's bus cracking the windshield as the Royals were leaving for the airport after the make up game."It was wild to go back to New York and play these four outs in a totally empty stadium" Armstrong said. "I'm dressed in the uniform, and nobody's there".[4]

Media references

The country artist C.W. McCall dedicated the song "Pine Tar Wars" to the event, composing a lyric that featured a quite accurate telling of the relevant facts of the story. The lyric is strongly critical of Billy Martin (Baby Billy).

References

External links

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