Thirty-Two Years Ago Today: The Pine Tar Game

Unless you’ve been living in a cave, with no electricity and, thusly, no chance in hell of having television or the Internet, you’re probably quite familiar with The Pine Tar Game by now. Here’s a little video to jog your memory if you thought I was taking a shot at Michael Pineda.

That’s right folks, the infamous game wherein George Brett hit an eventually game-winning home run off of Goose Gossage, but was called out after Billy Martin got the umps to rule it an “illegally batted ball.”

Why on earth would that be?

Well, according to Rule 1.10(c), “a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle.” The first element of comedy comes into play here, as the umpires, specifically home plate umpire Tim McClelland, measured the amount of pine tar with the width of home plate as their measuring stick. Home plate is 17 inches wide. Oops!

“Billy, I don’t have a measuring tape on me, mind if I just eyeball it with home plate?” – Tim McClelland

Temporarily, this meant that the New York Yankees had won the game 4-to-3, but the Royals had already filed an official protest, which was heard by then American League President Lee McPhail. McPhail ended up siding with the Royals, mostly due to his view of the rule being more about economics than gaining an edge in power to drive the ball. To clarify, McPhail felt that the ‘spirit’ of the rule had more to do with pine tar getting on the balls, thus making them “discolored” and not eligible for official use.

Therefore, it has been theorized that, beyond Billy Martin’s notorious genius for scheming any way to win, the economics angle is that the home team – in this case the Yankees – would want to be on the hook for as few replacement balls and their ensuing cost as possible. Essentially, McPhail believed the ball would have been a home run no matter how much pine tar Brett had applied to his bat. To my curious mind, I feel like he’s not ever explicitly answered whether the amount of pine tar was in fact legal or not, according to the rules, not his summation of Economics 101. Don’t get me wrong, though, I still agree with how he ruled it; anything to screw the Yankees.

So, the game was resumed on August 18th, again at Yankee Stadium. George Brett would be watching the game from an Italian restaurant in New Jersey with Don Ameche’s son, Larry Ameche. Ameche was a sort of Travel Secretary for the Royals at the time. Why was Brett watching from a restaurant if he was eventually ruled safe? Well, McPhail had to find redress for Brett’s near head-shearing assault on the umpiring crew, so he retroactively ejected him from the game.

To wrap it up, I thought it would be fun to dispense some trivial tidbits about this most notorious of games. For example, did you know that the Yankees attempted to charge an extra entrance fee (approximately $2.50) to the resumption of the game? Due to legal battles concerning how people would be admitted into the game’s ending, the Royals were uncertain that the game would even be played until they landed in Newark that day. I highly doubt anything like this would be allowed to happen today. Also of note, due to an injured Bert Campaneris, Don Mattingly played second base, albeit for only one third of an inning. Yet, his third of an inning marks the last time a left-handed-throwing player has played the middle infield.

Lastly, there were three Hall of Famers who participated in the action over those two days: George Brett and Goose Gossage, obviously, but also the ever-crafty Gaylord Perry, who tried to steal the bat by giving it to the bat boy, who was then pursued and cornered by Yankee security staff in the Royals locker room.

Even though I said these kinds of events could never happen in today’s game, sometimes I do wish for the un-sanitized, rough-and-tumble days of this kind of baseball insanity.

Happy 32nd birthday to The Pine Tar Game!



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