Pine Tar Game holds no sticking points
Brett, Gossage recall infamous contest on its silver anniversary
KANSAS CITY -- George Brett will get together with old rival and old pal Goose Gossage this weekend at Cooperstown, N.Y., where the great relief pitcher will get his due as he's inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But, on Wednesday, the two got together on a conference call to recall the famous Pine Tar Game of 25 years ago, July 24, 1983. Brett's tirade during the incident has been famous footage on TV and stadium screens ever since.
"I have a tape of the game, actually, and I probably watch it once a year with my boys -- they like to watch it, for some reason," Brett said with a chuckle. "But they don't want to watch the whole game, they just want to watch the aftermath of what happens when the umpire calls me out."
The facts are well-chronicled. Brett hit a two-run homer off Gossage with two out in the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium for an apparent 5-4 Royals lead. Yankees manager Billy Martin protested that Brett illegally had pine tar on his bat beyond 18 inches from the knob. Umpire Tim McClelland agreed, called Brett out and declared the Yankees 4-3 winners.
The stage for this had been set a couple of weeks before when the Yankees were at Kansas City, Gossage recalled. During a game with Brett coming up, Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles visited the mound.
"That was the first I heard of it," Gossage said. "Graig came over to me and said, 'Listen, if he gets a hit here, [Brett's] using an illegal bat....Make sure you get that bat.' Everybody thought it was Martin that spotted it, but it was Nettles."
Brett made an out then, so nothing was done.
"Two weeks go by and I'm still using the same bat," Brett said. "I hit the home run off Goose, and that's when they called me on it, because it changed the outcome of the game. If I'd have made an out, they wouldn't have said a thing."
Brett never wore batting gloves, but used pine tar topped with resin to improve his grip on the bat.
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"The pine tar would always build up," Gossage mentioned, speaking to Brett from Cooperstown. "You always touched the barrel of your bat and I'm sure you didn't break many bats because you were such a great hitter, a pure hitter. That's probably why that pine tar built up there."
Despite the intensity of the situation, there was a Keystone Cops chase triggered by veteran Royals pitcher Gaylord Perry. During the confusion, he sidled next to McClelland and stole the bat from the umpire's grip.
According to Brett, Perry handed the bat off to pitcher Steve Renko, who handed it off to somebody else, and that somebody raced toward the visitors' clubhouse to hide the evidence. There a New York cop apprehended the culprit, recovered the bat and returned it to the umps.
"That's a true story and you can kind of see it on the replay on TV because, all of sudden, while I'm still out on the field arguing, you see a bunch of people starting to run to the dugout," Brett said.
In the aftermath, the Royals protested, and the home run was restored by American League president Lee MacPhail. The game was taken up from the point of the home run (without Brett, who had been ejected). The Royals stopped by Yankee Stadium on Aug. 18, 1983, long enough for the last four outs of the game, with Dan Quisenberry retiring the Yankees in the ninth. The Royals were 5-4 winners.
Here it is, 25 years later and folks are still talking about it.
"I never thought it would be that big of a deal," Brett said. "Only in New York. In Cleveland, it's not that big of a deal."
In fact, after the league returned the bat to Brett while the Royals were in Detroit, he began using it again. He cleaned the pine tar off the barrel, marked 18 inches with a red line and started swinging it.
"Gaylord Perry says, 'What are you doing using that bat? You ought to keep that bat because that bat has historical value -- if you break it, it's not worth anything,'" Brett said. "So I put it in the bat bag and now it's in the Hall of Fame."
Since Brett was headed to the Hall of Fame for Gossage's induction, he had a thought.
"I should try to restore the bat to its original state. Go there this weekend, get some pine tar, put it up to 23 inches and at least make it look like it," Brett said.
Better check with the curator first, George. He might call you out.
Dick Kaegel is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.