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30 Years Ago: George Brett Erupts During “Pine Tar Game” (VIDEO)

Posted on July 24, 2013 by Dean Hybl
After having his home run reversed, George Brett had to be physically restrained from umpire Tim McClelland.

After having his home run reversed, George Brett had to be physically restrained from umpire Tim McClelland.

It is hard to believe that it was 30 years ago, July 24, 1983, when New York Yankees manager Billy Martin set off “Volcano Brett” after Kansas City Royals star George Brett launched what appeared to be a two-run home run in the top of the ninth inning of the final game of a four-game series between the two teams at Yankee Stadium.

The scene of a totally unhinged Brett erupting out of the dugout and having to be restrained from home plate umpire Tim McClelland by the other umpires and his teammates is a familiar one that has been replayed extensively over the last three decades.

However, the entire incident is an amazingly interesting time capsule for baseball from an era before steroids, corked bats and other unlawful tricks to get an edge completely changed the game of baseball.

In re-watching the video, it is almost comical to think anyone would take Martin’s argument seriously and legitimately consider that having a little pine tar more than 18 inches up the handle of the bat would play any role in Brett’s home run off Goose Gossage.

However, after Martin spent time pointing out the indiscretion to McClelland and the other umpires, they actually measured the bat against the plate and then McClelland famously signaled that Brett was out, thus launching one of the most famous tirades in baseball history.

Of course while the Yankees technically “won” the game on that afternoon with Brett being the third out, the victory was overruled by American League President Lee MacPhail. He ordered the game to continue following the Brett home run with the Royals now leading 5-4.

When the game was continued on August 18th, Martin did everything he could to express his displeasure with the ruling.

Because original second baseman Bert Campaneris was injured and centerfielder Jerry Mumphrey had been traded, the Yankees made some interesting player moves. Don Mattingly, who had replaced Steve Balboni at first base during the original game, moved to second base, pitcher Ron Guidry played centerfield and Ken Griffey, Sr. entered the game at first base. (Check out the game boxscore)

Billy Martin observes as umpire Tim McClelland inspects the "pine tar" bat.

Billy Martin observes as umpire Tim McClelland inspects the “pine tar” bat.

Martin also had pitcher George Frazier start the game by throwing to first base to protest that Brett had not touched the base. Once that appeal was denied, he then had Frazier throw to second base contending that both Brett and U.L. Washington had missed the base.

When Martin went on the field to continue his protest, umpire Dave Phillips produced a signed and notarized affidavit saying that Brett touched all the bases. Martin eventually left the field, but announced that the Yankees were playing the game under protest. He then reportedly went into the players’ clubhouse and watched television.

Though he allowed Brett’s home run because he said the “spirit of the restriction” was economically driven and not because of a believed advantage of using too much pine tar, MacPhail did eject Brett for his outburst. Also ejected were manager Dick Howser, Coach Rocky Colavito and pitcher Gaylord Perry, who had given the bat to a batboy to hide in the dugout.

Brett’s outburst really speaks to the changes in the game over the last 30 years. Had the incident happened today, it wouldn’t be unexpected for McCelland to lash back at Brett in a provocative manner or for the two teams to get into a tussle. Another interesting aspect of the video is watching Graig Nettles talking to Brett as he is being restrained in an obvious attempt to calm down his fellow third baseman.

Had the incident occurred in 2013, Brett would probably have been suspended for a week or more, but his only suspension was the remainder of that game.

The final inning was really anti-climactic as reliever George Frazier struck out Hal McRae to end the Kansas City half of the inning and then Dan Quisenberry retired all three Yankees he faced to end the game and officially give the Royals a 5-4 victory.

Though the two teams had met three times in the American League Championship Series in the previous seven seasons, neither team would be headed to the post season in 1983.

The Yankees were beginning what would be a decade-long dry spell as they posted a 91-71 record and finished in third place in the American League east, six games behind eventual World Series Champions the Baltimore Orioles.

Kansas City finished the season second in the American League West, but actually had a losing record with a 79-83 mark to place 20 games behind the first place Chicago White Sox.

It is interesting in the video to see some very famous faces.

Of course both the hitter, Brett, and pitcher, Gossage, went on to the Baseball Hall of Fame. There is a great shot of Billy Martin and a young Don Mattingly (wearing number 46). Others in the lineup for the Yankees included Graig Nettles, Bert Campaneris, Don Baylor, Lou Pinella and Dave Winfield.

Scoring the game-tying run for Kansas City was U.L. Washington, who is now the hitting coach for the Greenville Drive, a single-A team in the Boston Red Sox organization. Among the other recognizable Kansas City players in the video were Hal McRae, Frank White, John Wathan and Joe Simpson, who is desperately hanging onto Brett.

Though the game is now a footnote in history, it still is one of the most memorable outbursts in baseball history and a fun reminder of a time when the game as an entity was far more innocent.


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