Thursday, July 24, 2014

Recall the Pine Tar

George Brett's reaction to being called out for excessive pine tar on July 24, 1983.  Public domain/fair use claimed, photo credit-, full cite below
Greetings All:

There is a lot of trouble in the world at this particular time.  As I wrote in my last post, living in "interesting times" carries a cost.  We're paying the "suggested retail price" for these times and our kids will be stuck with the interest payments.  

So when I learned today was the 31st anniversary of the "pine tar" incident at Yankee stadium, I smiled.  I smiled because if you're a baseball fan, you know the story.  For those of you who are not, here's a recap from Wikipedia:

"On July 24, 1983, the Royals played the Yankees at Yankee Stadium. In the top of the ninth inning with two out, Brett hit a go-ahead two-run homer off of Goose Gossage to put the Royals up 5-4. Upon Brett crossing the plate, Yankees manager Billy Martin cited to the umpires a rule that stated that any foreign substance on a bat could extend no further than 18 inches from the knob. The umpires measured the amount of pine tar, a legal substance used by hitters to improve their grip, on Brett's bat; the pine tar extended about 24 inches. The home plate umpire, Tim McClelland, signaled Brett out, ending the game as a Yankees win. An enraged George Brett charged out of the dugout toward McClelland and had to be physically restrained by two umpires and a Royals coach. Brett was immediately ejected. The Royals protested the game, and American League president Lee MacPhail upheld the protest, reasoning that the bat should have been excluded from future use but the home run should not have been nullified. Amid much controversy, the game was resumed on August 18 from the point of Brett's home run and ended with a Royals win."

Now if a picture is worth a thousand words, a video is worth a million.  I tried (and failed miserably) to embed the video into this blog post.  However, I have the link in the sources below.  Please check out the video at the oh, say, 2:39 minute mark to relive Mr. Brett's...response to being called out for his pine tar transgression.

Even three decades later, the legend lives on.  Although George Brett achieved countless accolades as a player, culminating with his elevation to the Parthenon that is the Hall of Fame, this incident is what he is best known for (at least outside of Kansas City).  Even the man himself offers these comments:

“That’s what I’m known for. It could be worse,” quipped Brett.

Although in retrospect it is a trivial, almost laughable matter, it still has some significance today.  On the one hand, it shows the value of knowing the rules.  Billy Martin, the legendary Yankee skipper, drew on years of experience to snatch victory (albeit temporarily) from the jaws of a two-run shot by knowing the rules.  On the other, you have to hand it to Brett for his passion.  

Please note, I said passion, not violence.  If you watch the video, it's clear George is not amused.  I have no doubt that he uttered a few words that ended in the letters "E R."  Sure, he had to be "restrained" from physically assaulting the umpire.  But would he really have hit him?  I doubt it.  Here's why.

George Brett grew up around baseball.  His father and brothers played the game.  He was drafted out of high school into the Royals organization.  He came of age during what was a golden age of baseball, before steroids and $11.00 draft beers at the ball park.  He both knew and respected the game.  

Now is it possible his rage might have gotten the best of him?  Sure.  Prisons across our country are filled with folks whose rage did.  And I'm no Brett fan, especially against the Yankees.  But if you watch the video, you see (at least I do) someone who is engaging in that most noble of baseball rituals, the rant.  It reminds me of Earl Weaver at his best.  Angry, profane, the infield as his stage, the kicked dirt as his prop,...and consciously aware of the crowd howling in approval.  But not violent.

And in the end, it was Brett and the Royals who had the last laugh.  The call was reversed, the home run stood and the Royals won the game a month later.  As for the bat, well, it made it to Cooperstown...along with Brett and Billy.

For me, that is the legacy of the pine tar incident.  A bit of drama, a bit more of righteous fury and a video that still can make a baseball fan smile.  But no violence, no blood shed.  And that is a welcome hiatus from what is going on in the world today.

Be well my friends,



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