Pine tar, 'Winning Ugly' and birds? '83 was weird

April 11th, 2020

Throughout our hopefully short time without real live games, we’ll be taking a weekly look back at a specific year in baseball history. What happened, why it mattered, what we’ll remember most. Send us the years you’d most like us to talk about to [email protected].

So far:

Year: 1983
ALCS: BAL over CWS in 4
NLCS: PHI over LAD in 4
World Series: BAL over PHI in 5
MVPs: AL: Cal Ripken Jr., BAL; NL: Dale Murphy, ATL
Cy Youngs: AL: LaMarr Hoyt, CWS; NL: John Denny, PHI
Rookies of the Year: AL: Ron Kittle, CWS; NL: Darryl Strawberry, NYM

All-MLB Team (chosen by me, in 2020):

C: Gary Carter, Expos
1B: Eddie Murray, Orioles
2B: Lou Whitaker, Tigers
SS: Cal Ripken Jr., Orioles
3B: Mike Schmidt, Phillies
OF: Dale Murphy, Braves
OF: Rickey Henderson, A’s
OF: Jim Rice, Red Sox
DH: Don Baylor, Yankees

SP: John Denny, Phillies
SP: Ron Guidry, Yankees
SP: Dave Stieb, Blue Jays
SP: Steve Carlton, Phillies
RP: Dan Quisenberry, Royals
RP: Lee Smith, Cubs

In many ways, the '83 season will always be remembered for this:

And how could it not be? It is not every day that one of the best players in baseball -- one who had tortured Billy Martin and the Yankees for years -- smashes a potentially game-winning home run at Yankee Stadium and then is called out for having too much pine tar on his bat. And, even better, responds by then running out of the dugout like he’s about to tackle … well, everyone on the planet.

The Pine Tar Game is a classic, incredible baseball incident, one that required the unique talents of George Brett and Martin, the incorrigible competitor just crazy enough to try to pull a stunt like disallowing a home run because of pine tar. A great, forgotten bit about this? When the game was eventually reconvened for the ninth inning three weeks later, Martin tried one last gambit: He attempted to persuade the umpires at that game, who were a different crew than the one at the original game, that none of the baserunners had touched the bases after Brett’s homer. It didn’t work (they had touched every base), but as always with Martin, you had to admire the effort.

However, I’d argue something even crazier happened on the field in 1983, something that nearly isn’t as well remembered, simply because there is no video of the incident. And that’s the time future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield was arrested for accidentally hitting a bird with a baseball.

Just a few weeks after the Pine Tar Game, the Yankees were playing at Toronto’s Exhibition Stadium. In the fifth inning, with New York leading, 3-1, Winfield was playing catch with a bat boy when a seagull landed right in between them. Winfield’s throw accidentally hit the bird and killed it. It was unintentional in every way, and Winfield, bewildered and (understandably) a little amused by the incident, put his cap over his heart in a little mock-mourning motion. It turned out, seagulls were an endangered species in Toronto at the time -- and fans were furious.

Toronto police felt like they had to do something. So after the game, they arrested Winfield! In all seriousness, they brought him to central booking, where he was charged with “unnecessary suffering of an animal,” potentially punishable by six months in prison. He had to sit through a full hour of questioning and pay a $500 bond to be released. The Blue Jays were so embarrassed by the incident that Toronto general manager Pat Gillick actually paid the bond himself.

An autopsy on the bird -- this was such a big incident that they did an autopsy on the bird -- revealed that it was already sick before being struck by Winfield. The charges surely would have been dropped anyway, and after the season, Winfield made an appearance in Toronto for a charity event, though he joked that he didn’t so much arrive for the event as he was “extradited.” Nine years later, Winfield would actually join the Blue Jays … and win his one World Series.

Martin is of course part of this story, too. He was Winfield’s manager for the Yankees, and said, merely, “That’s the first time Winfield’s hit the cutoff man all year.”

The point is: Weird stuff went down in '83.

Here are 10 other fun factoids from that season.

  1. Here’s some more weirdness. On July 3, the Rangers played an afternoon game at the Coliseum against the A’s. It was a tight tilt, back-and-forth the whole way, culminating in a two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth that tied the game and sent it to extras. (The two players who scored were Rickey Henderson and Tony Phillips.) Totally normal so far. Extra-inning games happen all the time. Except, when this one reached the top of the 15th, the Rangers scored 12 runs -- the most ever in an extra inning. And perhaps in an act of mercy, the A’s went down 1-2-3 in the bottom half.
  1. How about another bizarre ending? On Aug. 24, the Blue Jays were playing at the Orioles. In the bottom of the ninth, Baltimore rallied for two runs to send the game to extras. The only problem? O's manager Joe Altobelli pinch-hit for Joe Nolan, the team’s backup catcher, leaving the team with no additional backstops. So, second baseman Lenn Sakata was forced to take over. The Jays planned on taking advantage by running on Sakata at every opportunity in the top of the 10th. Cliff Johnson homered off Tim Stoddard to give Toronto a lead, and then someone named Barry Bonnell singled. Bonnell obviously planned on running, so the Orioles brought in a new pitcher, Tippy Martinez, who had a better move to first, and Tippy took it from there. He picked off Bonnell, walked Dave Collins … and then picked him off too. Willie Upshaw then hit an infield single … and darned if Tippy didn’t pick him off to finish the inning off. It remains the only inning in baseball history in which all outs were recorded by pickoffs. The best part: The game ended in bottom of the 10th on a three-run walk-off homer … by Sakata.
  1. For the first time in arbitration history, a player eclipsed a $1 million salary. Fernando Valenzuela earned the figure after the Dodgers countered with $750,000. The arbitrator sided with Valenzuela after his electrifying first two years in the Majors.
  1. The White Sox were a club with much drama under young manager Tony La Russa, who had famously feuded with broadcaster Jimmy Piersall years earlier, leading to Piersall’s removal from the club's broadcast booth. In 1983, La Russa’s attempts to kickstart a moribund franchise that hadn’t played a postseason game since the '59 World Series finally paid off, with a team that won 99 games. This was the “Winning Ugly” year, in which the Sox won with pitching (including Cy Young Award winner LaMarr Hoyt) and timely slugging from the rotund Greg Luzinski and begoggled rookie Ron Kittle. The White Sox won Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, then scored just one run in the next three games to lose the series. They ended up scoring a total of three runs in all four games. The White Sox would fall under .500 the next season, fire La Russa two years after and wouldn’t reach the postseason again until '93.
  1. Nolan Ryan broke Walter Johnson’s all-time strikeout record on April 27, fanning Montreal’s Brad Mills to total a career 3,509. A month later, Steve Carlton also passed. Ryan would have a little more steam moving forward, though: he would end up with 5,714 punchouts, nearly 1,600 more than Carlton.
  1. There was some other strikeout news this year. In the first round of the Draft, with the No. 19 overall pick, the Red Sox selected University of Texas right-hander Roger Clemens. He was chosen right after a man named Erik Sonberg, who topped out in Triple-A, where he had a career 7.37 ERA, and was out of baseball by 1989.
  1. It’s often forgotten that Cal Ripken Jr.’s one World Series title was not, in fact, with Earl Weaver as his manager. Weaver famously retired after the O's lost to the Brewers on the last day of the 1982 season in a game that cost them the AL East title. But Joe Altobelli took over and led Baltimore to a championship in his first season. Ripken was only 22 years old when he won the AL MVP Award that year, though he arguably was the second-best hitter on his own team, behind fellow future Hall of Famer Eddie Murray. (Ken Singleton and John Lowenstein were both terrific as well.) Jim Palmer, a year after finishing second in the Cy Young Award voting, struggled with injuries all year and didn’t pitch at all in the ALCS, but he came on in relief in Game 4 of the World Series, throwing two scoreless innings to earn the win. The O's lost the first game to the Phillies, but won the next four to win their third -- and, to date, most recent -- championship.
  1. Right before he ran on the field for his final game at Fenway Park, on a day that was specifically named for him, Carl Yastrzemski noticed that his shoe was on fire. His teammates had played one last prank on him before he said goodbye. Yaz didn't get a hit in his final game, but no one cared.
  1. Billy Martin obviously had a busy year, and it may have been too much for George Steinbrenner, who of course fired him again, for the third time, even though Steinbrenner had signed Martin to a "lifetime" contract before the season. Martin was replaced by Yogi Berra, who was fired 17 games into the 1985 season and, of course, replaced by Martin. That season, Martin got in a fight with pitcher Ed Whitson, wound up breaking his arm, and Steinbrenner fired him again. Steinbrenner kept Martin on staff though, and even increased his salary so he wouldn’t go to another team. Martin got one more chance in '88, but after a brawl and a suspension from the league for throwing dirt on an umpire, Steinbrenner, almost out of mercy at this point, fired Martin again. Martin was still on staff, though, and Martin reportedly told friends after the '89 season that he would likely manage in '90. But Martin was killed in a car crash on Christmas Day that year.
  1. How much has baseball changed? The longest nine-inning game in baseball history (until that point) was played on July 10, with the Brewers and White Sox taking four hours, 11 minutes to finish. The current record is four hours, 45 minutes, for a Red Sox-Yankees game in 2006. And there were multiple postseason games that were longer than that White Sox-Brewers game in both '17 and '18.

Send me the year you’d love to have me write about at [email protected].