Hall of Famer George Brett Remembers Pine Tar Game
By Howard Goldin
Photo by Bill Menzel
Bronx, NY-Baseball Hall of Famer George Brett was recently named interim hitting coach for the Kansas City Royals, the team on which he played all of his 21 years in the major leagues. He began his career in the big leagues at the age of 20 in 1973 and concluded it at the close of the 1993 season after having amassed a large array of on-the-field achievements and earned a plethora of honors.
Brett and the rest of the 2013 Royals were in the Bronx from July 8-11 for a four game set with the Yankees. As the series was the only visit of the Royals to New York this year, the 30th anniversary of an unusual game between the Royals and Yanks was remembered. As Brett was the center of the controversial contest, he held a press conference on July 9 at Yankee Stadium to reminisce of that day.
It’s strange that a baseball player who was elected to the Hall of Fame with 98 % of the vote and whose achievements include a .390 batting average in 1980, being elected to the All-Star team of the American League 13 times, a World Series batting average of .373, an American League Championship Series batting average of .340, the American League MVP Award in 1980, a lifetime total of 3,154 hits and 1,596 runs batted in should be most remembered as the “tar guy.” He remarked, “It’s what I’m known for.”
The rivalry between the two clubs in 1983 was intense as they had battled in the A.L.C.S. in four of the previous seven seasons. Brett talked of his animosity towards the Yanks but also of how much he enjoyed the challenge of playing against them, especially in New York, “I loved playing here and I loved it when the fans booed me, which they did often. I loved the challenge of going out there and playing against a great Yankee team.”
The unusual game of which Brett spoke began on July 24 but did not conclude until August 18. The Yanks led, 4-3, until the ninth when Brett blasted a two-run homer off reliever “Goose” Gossage, now also in the Baseball Hall of Fame and a friend of Brett’s. The homer was followed by the Yankee manager, Billy Martin, never a stranger to an argument, exiting the dugout to complain to umpire Tim McClelland that Brett was in violation to MLB rules by having more than 18 inches of pine tar covering his bat.
The controversy intensified when the umpire disallowed the home run and called Brett out for violating baseball rules. Brett, enraged, rushed from the dugout and had to be restrained from physically attacking the ump. The decision resulted in a Yankees 4-3 victory.
The decision was overturned several days later by American League President Lee MacPhail. He ruled the home run counted and the game would resume with two out in the top of the ninth and the Royals leading, 5-4. The game continued on August 18. Several minutes later, the game concluded without a change in the 5-4 score.
Brett, three decades later, now looks at the circumstances very differently than he did during his outburst of anger, “To be remembered as a guy that hit that hit a home run off one of the great closers of all time, “Goose” Gossage with a bat that was, I guess, suspected of being illegal and proven not to be, and then having it reversed. I’m known for something positive.”
Anyone who saw George Brett play also can remember that they witnessed one of the great major leaguers of his generation and a player truly deserving of his Hall of Fame status.