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George Brett

On This Day: George Brett Hits “Pine Tar Home Run”

July 24, 2011 05:00 AM
by findingDulcinea Staff
On July 24, 1983, the Royals’ George Brett wildly charged toward umpires after his ninth inning home run was disallowed because there was too much pine tar on his bat.

The Pine Tar Incident

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The Yankees were leading the Royals 4-3 in the ninth inning when they brought closer Goose Gossage into the game. With a runner on base and two outs, Royals star George Brett blasted a two-run, go-ahead home run into the right field stands.

As Brett rounded the bases, Yankees manager Billy Martin walked out to home plate and told umpire Tim McClelland that Brett’s bat was illegal. He cited an obscure rule stating that the amount of pine tar, a sticky substance simply intended to help grip the bat, cannot be placed above the lower 18 inches of a bat.

Martin had been waiting for an “opportune moment” to challenge the legality of Brett’s bat after coach Don Zimmer and third baseman Graig Nettles had noticed the “inordinate application of pine tar” two weeks earlier, Sports Illustrated reported.

McClelland measured the bat across home plate and found that the “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,” according to Baseball Almanac. He had no choice but to call Brett out, negating the homer and ending the game.

“In a split second, a hysterical Brett was racing out of the dugout like his pants were on fire,” MLB.com describes, “lunging at McClelland behind a barricade of teammates and other umpires trying to restrain him.”

In the chaos that followed, Royals pitcher Gaylord Perry wrestled the bat out of McClelland’s hands and ran into the clubhouse in an attempt to destroy the evidence. The bat was later retrieved by MLB officials.

The Royals protested the game and American League president Lee McPhail decided in their favor four days later. Saying that the illegal bat didn’t violate the “the spirit of the rules,” he ordered that the home run be allowed to stand and the game be completed at a later date.

The Yankees took the case to court to overturn MacPhail’s decision. On the morning of Aug. 18, the day the game would resume, the Yankees won a court injunction to postpone it. The Royals arrived at Yankee Stadium not knowing whether the game would be played. Finally, at 3:35 p.m., an appellate judge ruled against the Yankees, saying, “Play ball.”

The game resumed shortly after 6:00, with just 1,245 people in the stands. Martin tried to make a mockery of the game by placing left-handed first basemen Don Mattingly at second base and pitcher Ron Guidry in center field.

Martin then called for an appeal play at first and second base, arguing that Brett had missed the bases and that the umpires—who had been at a different game in July—could not definitively rule that he hadn’t. Expecting this, the crew chief pulled out signed statements from the July 24 umpires confirming that Brett had touched every base.

After Hal McRae made the last out of the top of the ninth, the Yankees were retired in order in the bottom half. In just 12 minutes, the Royals had finally wrapped up a bizarre 5-4 victory. “Time of the game: three weeks, four days, four hours and 14 minutes,” Sports Illustrated’s Steve Wulf wrote. “If it were only that simple.”

Looking Back at the Game

The pine tar incident remains the most famous moment in Brett’s Hall of Fame career, and he is frequently asked about it. “Until I saw the replay of that, I had no idea of my emotion when I ran onto that field. I had no idea what I was doing,” he told ESPN in 2007, the 25th anniversary of the game.

McClelland is also famous for the game and often makes appearances with Brett. “I've always said George wasn't a very smart man, because he's charging out at a man who stands 6-6 and weighs 250 pounds,” he quipped. “And I had my protective equipment on and I was standing there with a bat in my hand. So I don't know what he was going to do when he got out there.”

Guidry, recalling the incident in 2008, spoke about the Yankees’ reaction as Brett stormed onto the field. “All of us that was sitting in the dugout, we was just cracking up because it was hilarious watching it  … and I mean we understood how mad George was, but it was kinda comical the way it all happened,” he said.

Brett also finds the incident to be comical. If it hadn’t been for the pine tar game, he told Baseball Digest in 2000, “then I'd only be known for hemorrhoids,” referring to the unfortunate condition he suffered through in the 1980 playoffs.

Biography: George Brett

George Brett was born into a baseball family: His older brother pitched in the Major Leagues for several years, and his two other brothers played in the minors. Brett’s start in the majors was unimpressive, until Royals batting coach Charlie Lau helped him make some adjustments. By his second full season, he was batting over .300 and leading the American League in triples.

He went on to set batting records, and he led the Royals to their only championship in 1985. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1999; the “pine tar bat” is also in Cooperstown, having been donated by Brett.
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