The 'Pine Tar Incident' remains one of the craziest stories baseball has ever told
One of the most difficult realizations to accept is that we rarely get to choose the moments that define our lives in the eyes of others. Take George Brett. He's a Hall of Famer with more than 3,000 career hits, an MVP Award and a World Series ring. He's undoubtedly one of the greatest players to ever set foot on a baseball field.
Despite a two-decade run as an elite baseball player, it's not a clutch hit or a stunning defensive play that many remember most about his career. Instead, it was a wild scene that led to Brett's ejection from a game.
The Royals were trailing the Yankees, 4-3, at Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1983, when Brett came to the plate with one on and two out in the top of the ninth inning. The home run he then hit off Yankees reliever Goose Gossage put the Royals up 5-4 -- or so it seemed.
Yankees manager Billy Martin got a peek at Brett's bat and saw more pine tar than he thought permissible. So, he asked the umpires to take a look to figure out if the bat had more than the allowed 18 inches of pine tar. After some discussions and measurements, they concluded the bat was in violation of Rule 1.10(c) and called Brett out.
That rule -- now cited as Rule 3.02(c) in the 2018 Rulebook -- states: "The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from its end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip."
Of course, Brett wasn't too happy with the umpires' ruling:
As a result of his outburst, Brett was ejected from the game.
While the hullabaloo ensued around home plate, Royals pitcher Gaylord Perry tried to run off with the evidence, i.e., Brett's bat, but was apprehended by a guard before he could tamper with it. Perry was also ejected, and, with Brett called out, the Royals lost.
After the game, though, Kansas City filed a protest with the American League, which ruled that although Brett did break the rules, the home run should have been allowed to stand. So, on Aug. 18, the two teams returned to Yankee Stadium to resume play -- sans the ejected Brett, Perry, Rocky Colalvito and manager Dick Howser -- with the Royals leading 5-4 with two outs in the top of the ninth.
Martin -- still angry about the incident -- tried to reveal the resumed game for the farce he believed it to be by stationing pitcher Ron Guidry in center field and left-handed first baseman Don Mattingly at second base. Before Yankees pitcher George Frazier threw the first pitch, he threw the ball to first, then to second base to dispute that Brett had not touched those bases on his home run, based on the fact that there were different umpires on the field for the game's resumption who couldn't possibly know whether Brett touched all the bases.
When the umpires upheld the home run, Martin went out to protest only to be surprised when the crew produced notarized affidavits from the original umpires stating that Brett had touched all the bases. After the initial craziness, the final four outs of the game were recorded in order and the Royals won, 5-4.
Though the incident probably wasn't the sort of legacy-defining moment Brett envisioned as a kid, he has since come to see it as a pretty good one nonetheless. "It was a positive thing, you know? It wasn't a ground-ball that went through my legs or a strikeout," Brett said. "I hit a home run off one of the toughest relief pitchers in baseball."
In other words, it's perfectly fine with Brett if the Pine Tar Incident comes to the front of your mind when reflecting on his career. For that, we're lucky, because life just wouldn't be as fun without the memory of one of the wackiest sequences in baseball history.