Pine Tar Game: Still Sticky After All These Years

AP Photo/Tom Middlemiss

It was 40 years ago today, I was at Yankee Stadium covering the Yankees’ game against the Kansas City Royals for Sportsphone and a number of other radio outlets.

I was in my third year of covering the team and I’d already earned my battle scars so to speak. I got to experience a first hand view of the famous Goose Gossage tirade in 1982 and I got my first taste of being around Billy Martin in 1983, so nothing surprised me anymore. Boy was I wrong.

It was the top of the ninth and the Yankees had a 4-3 lead and Martin was trying to get a two inning save from Dale Murray.

Don Mattingly made a spectacular defensive play with one out in the ninth to rob Pat Sheridan so the Yankees were one out away from a win.

Royals shortstop U.L. Washington was the hitter but the great George Brett was lurking on deck, putting more pressure on Murray to get this final out. If Murray doesn’t get Washington, then Martin will go to Gossage to face Brett. The problem was that Brett owned Gossage and that domination created one of the historic moments in baseball history.

After the Yankees got the second out, I started to prepare for my job as a reporter and work the locker room. I also had to file a final voicer and had to have something prepared in case the game does end.

With the Royals down to their final strike, Washington hit a grounder to the left of Roy Smalley, who had limited range at shortstop, and the ball got past him for a single and there was Martin popping out of the dugout to bring in Gossage.

On the first pitch, Brett hit a deep fly ball down the left field line that appeared to be a home run at first but it went foul. On the next pitch, Brett unloaded for a two run home run that sailed into the lower deck in right field and the Royals had a 5-4 lead, or did they?

Martin immediately came out of the dugout to question Brett’s bat that was loaded with pine tar and was extended beyond the legal limit.

The rest is history and a video clip that has been aired over and over these past 40 years.

Everyone has seen Brett exploding out of the dugout to protest the call, but many people don’t know what went on after the game. You didn’t have the benefit of a post game show, like today, but I have my recollections. 

Royals’ pitcher Gaylord Perry had attempted to hide the bat from the officials, but it was confiscated and I saw it being escorted out of the building by 4 or 5 NYPD officers.

Martin looked like a cheshire cat in the post game media scrum in his office. That is where we heard that Graig Nettles had noticed the pine tar on Brett’s bat during a previous series in Kansas City. Martin admitted they saved this option for the right time. Four days later, it was all for naught.

After the scrum in Martin’s office, I made my way to the Kansas City clubhouse, figuring Royals PR would allow Brett a few minutes to cool off before he met, what turned into a media throng. As I headed there, I had two thoughts. Did I miss him already and will he even talk?

To his credit, a still angry Brett met the press. When he was asked “Why does he use pine tar on the bat,” Brett answered with a memorable quote, “Because I’m not a [expletive], I like the feel of raw hands on raw wood.”

Four days later, American League President Lee MacPhail ruled that the home run should count and that the game would resume from that point on August 18th (a previously scheduled off day for both teams) at Yankee Stadium.

Some media members felt MacPhail was punishing Yankee Owner George Steinbrenner because of their well publicized clashes in the past. Because of the ruling, Steinbrenner had to open the stadium, pay the employees and security who worked there during a game day while a reported 1,200 fans inhabited the stands.

Martin used the resumption to play Ron Guidry in center field and Don Mattingly at second base. Guidry replaced Jerry Mumphrey who was traded eight days previous, and Mattingly was at second for Bert Campaneris, who got hurt in the game.

Yankee pitcher George Frazier was told by Martin to appeal first and second base, claiming Brett may have missed the bag. Frazier got the final out of the top of the ninth and the Royals went with their closer Dan Quisenberry to get the final three outs.

Quisenberry retired Mattingly, (who had a 25-game hitting streak snapped), Smalley and Oscar Gamble, who grounded out to second.

I did not cover the resumption and I don’t regret it because it lasted an inning and a third and was less than 15 minutes, but I’ll always remember where I was on July 24th, 1983.

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