In the years following the famed incident, Hall of Famer George Brett’s son Jackson would often request of that memorable moment, “Hey, dad. Put on that video where you go crazy.”
Baseball is decorated with many notables home runs, but few are commemorated with their own name, such as Babe Ruth’s “Called Shot,” Bobby Thompson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round The World,” and Gabby Hartnett’s “Homer in the Gloamin’.” So, it stands to reason that the events of the “Pine Tar Incident” should be reviewed and reflected upon for good measure every July 24 on its anniversary.
Before manager Bud Black took a role with the Rockies as the commander and chief of Colorado’s finest baseball club, he was an accomplished pitcher of with five major league teams. He played alongside several enshrined in Cooperstown’s Hall of Fame, such as Brett, Eddie Murray and Jim Thome, and recorded 12 shutouts during his 15-year career; by comparison, Dodgers’ Clayton Kershaw is the leader among active players in shutouts with 15.
One of the greatest games in which he took part was far from his best. Black tossed six innings and surrendered four runs for the Kansas City Royals against the New York Yankees on July 24, 1983 as his club looked to get back to .500 and shrink the 2.0 game lead behind the Chicago White Sox, the AL West leaders at the time.
With New York ahead 4-3 in the top of the ninth, the Royals’ U L Washington singled off reliever Dale Murray. Yankees’ manager Billy Martin needed to ensure a victory to keep his club in the hunt for the AL East crown and with Washington’s speed enough to score from first base on a ball to the gap, he called upon Hall of Fame closer – and Colorado Springs resident – Rich “Goose” Gossage to get the final out for the Bronx Bombers.
What followed next is to behold with the eyes, an all-time highlight. With too many details to unpack and too little time to do it, Black dispensed with some of his favorite behind the scenes details of what went down during the Pine Tar Incident 36 years ago today.
“I had pitched a lot at Yankee Stadium, but that game it was a classic,” Black began. “The thing that I’ll always remember about George (Brett) is that he always rose to the occasion in New York. I don’t know what his career numbers where there, but George on a big stage, well that always brought the best out of George. Taking Goose (Gossage) deep was not surprising. There’s so much to talk about with that game, not so much my efforts.”
Brett homered into the right field stands to put ahead the Royals, 5-4. Before they could count their eggs, Martin was out of the dugout and complaining to home plate umpire Tim McClelland that there was excessive pine tar on Brett’s bat.
“The Yankees were on the lookout for his bat,” Black indicated. “They waited for the most opportune moment. George didn’t break bats, so that was his gamer. George took BP with a certain bat, but his game that was that bat. And over time – weeks and months – that was his game bat. So the pine tar eventually crept up the barrel and the Yankees were waiting. And what a moment. They couldn’t have scripted it any better for them to have made that plea.
“George was sitting there with (some of the guys). I was in the clubhouse. I was watching it all unfold on a small little black-and-white TV that was in the training room in antiquated Yankee Stadium. It was a small clubhouse and small training room. (The announcers) were saying that through this, Billy came out. The umpires converged. And George was saying, ‘If they call me out… If they do this… If they do that… I’m gonna snap.’ So, it was building that something bad was going to happen,” Black forecasted.
According to the official rules of Major League Baseball, Rule 1.10(c) states that “a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches [46 cm] from the tip of the handle.” The umpires used the front of home plate (17 inches) to determine there was simply too much pine tar along the bat. Since the rule defined this as “an illegally batted ball” at the time, the umps reasoned Brett should be ruled out.
As the third out of the ninth, this would result in the end of the game. The Yankees were declared the winner and Brett would hit the first ever game-losing home run. At least, that was the ruling at that point.
“The bat eventually got confiscated,” Black continued, “but it took awhile for the authorities to get the bat. When McClelland put the bat on home plate and stood back up and walk towards our dugout and called George out, George came out. The bat boy ended up getting the bat and (outfielder) Leon Roberts ripped the bat out of his hand and gave it to (future Hall of Fame starting pitcher) Gaylord Perry, who ran it up to the clubhouse.”
In the ensuing moments of chaos that followed, Kansas City protested the game. It took some time, but American League President Lee MacPhail upheld the protest, meaning the game would continue from the point of George Brett’s home run: Royals ahead 5-4 in the top of the ninth with two outs.
MacPhail also ejected Perry from the game for his stolen bat shenanigans, along with coach Rocky Colavito for arguing with umpires. The game and final four outs would be resumed on August 18.
“The best part, for me, was after MacPhail ruled in the spirit of the game to allow the home run, we had to go finish the game. So we flew from Kansas City to New York on a mutual off day, then we’re going to go down to Baltimore (after). On the plane, (Royals closer Dan Quisenberry) was a nervous wreck because he knew he was pitching. And here’s a closer. When a closer comes to the ballpark, you don’t know if you’re gonna come in. Like Wade Davis doesn’t know or (Cincinnati Reds) Raisel Iglesias. They don’t know if they’re pitching tonight. They know as the game unfolds, ‘Hey, I might get in this game.’ Quiz knew for three weeks. He was a nervous wreck. It was awesome,” Black snickered.
“That was a big story (at the time),” he reminded. “We were waiting for the ruling from the American League office. George got thrown out of the game. We had some other guys who weren’t on the active roster. So, when we land in New York, I went to the ball park. I wasn’t going to play, but I had to throw on the side that day.” Black’s eyes grow a bit wider as he went on to detail, “We got off the bus and it was literally like a ghost town. It was weird. Usually at Yankee Stadium there’s electricity, there’s people waiting for the visiting team bus. But there was maybe 100 people in the stands waiting to get the four outs.”
“So, (we have a new umpire crew). The Yankees take the field and the pitcher (former Rockies analyst George Frazier) appeals to first base. Umpire says safe. Appeal to second base. Safe. Go to third base. Safe. (Martin) comes out and says, ‘Hey, you guys weren’t even here. How do you know George didn’t touch first base?’ And (someone) pulls out an affidavit, sworn statements, from all four umpires (from the original game) that George (Brett) hit every base.” Black goes on to add, “That was awesome.”
“The Yankees take the field and (first baseman Don) Mattingly takes second base and (starting pitcher Ron) Guidry was playing center field because you can only use the guys who were on (the July 24) roster for the game. If you weren’t on the original lineup card you couldn’t play in that game,” he explained. Fittingly, Mattingly became the first left-handed middle infielder since 1970 with the continuation.
“And we were out of there within an hour. Guys went and got dressed, went to play catch. Quiz went out to the bullpen. (Frazier) got the one out. Then we went on the field. Quiz got three (outs). It is over in 10-12 minutes.”
According to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR), the fans that went to the original Yankee Stadium for the continuation that day paid just $1.00 for a seat in the bleachers or $2.50 for a general admission ticket. Because of the strange scenario that unfolded, New York estimated that playing the final four outs of the game on August 18 cost them $25,000 or slightly less than a league-minimum salary cost at the time.
Perhaps the best part of the victory for some of those on the Royals was despite the travel to complete the remainder of Pine Tar Game, some players earned more than just one win on the day.
According to Black, “The guys who stayed back, they’d got off the plane and got some transportation to some Italian place in Newark.”