On July 24, 1983, Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett got a little bit angry after umpire Tim McClelland ruled that pine tar extended more than 18 inches from the handle of Brett’s bat. That nullified Brett’s ninth inning home run, and the Yankees won the game, but only temporarily. The umpires’ decision was eventually overturned and the last four outs of the game were played at Yankee Stadium on August 18.That time, the Royals won 5 to 4.
Zach Schonbrun has written about the infamous Pine Tar Bat incident for the New York Times.
BL: The incident and Brett’s tantrum captured headlines across the nation in the summer of ’83. Would people have paid as much attention to it if the Royals had not been playing in New York?
ZS: Well, I think the fact that the Royals and Yankees at the time were such fierce rivals, I think that certainly plays a huge part, as well as George Brett’s role in that rivalry and his own personal rivalry with Goose Gossage. That all certainly played a huge part. But if a player had reacted as Brett had done after that incident, storming out of the dugout as frantically as he did, … SportsCenter, ESPN, and all of the news stations would have certainly picked up on that because it was quite a moment.
BL: George Brett, who resigned on Thursday as the Royals interim hitting coach, exploded out of the dugout on that day. And he had to be restrained when Tim McClelland called him out. He recently talked about his reaction to the ruling. Are you surprised that Brett is friends to this day with McClelland and with Yankees’ reliever Goose Gossage who was the guy who threw the pitch and gave up the home run?
ZS: I was a little surprised that he was friends with Goose because they were rivals back then. The Yankees and the Royals did not get along. They did not like each other. There was less of a fraternal atmosphere in baseball and across the sport [than] there is today. But Brett is … a jovial guy. His relationship with Tim McClelland probably took a little bit of time to mend over. But the fact that obviously things kind of went Brett’s way and got cleared up in the end, probably helped that out a little bit.
BL: The infamous pine tar bat, which Brett sold to a collector for $25,000, and later bought back, now resides in Cooperstown. But Brett cleaned the bat before he gave it to Cooperstown. I wonder why they still wanted it.
ZS: Well, that’s a piece of history. Yeah, I don’t know why Brett cleaned it. It would’ve been very cool to see how the bat was. I understand it went through a lot of hands. One of the bat boys tried to pick it up, and then the Royals tried to get it. It went through a lot of hands before Brett was able to get a hold of it. I think it’s in the right place.