The Pine Tar Incident

[Get Exclusive Tips on our Patreon, Ad-Free

The pine tar incident was a contentious incident that happened on 24th July 1983 during a baseball game between the Kansas City Royals and the New York City Yankees.

The game took place at the Yankee stadium in New York.

The incident, which involved the Royals baseman George Brett using a bat that had more pine tar than stipulated in the Pine Tar Rules resulted in a temporary loss to the Royals, a decision that was later quashed.

What Transpired During The Pine Tar Incident?

In the game, the Royals were trailing the Yankees 4-3 with two outs when baseman George Brett hit a home run handing a lead to his team. Before even Brett hit the home plate, Yankees manager Billy Martin ordered the umpires to inspect Brett’s bat. This was a perfectly timed move. They scrutinized it and determined that the amount of pine tar applied on the bat exceeded the allowed 18-inch from the tip of the handle limit as prescribed by Major League Baseball rule book. Since the home plate is 17 inches wide, the amount of pine tar was well above the edge plate’s edge.

They ruled that Brett had used an unapproved bat. He was called out and his run nullified, effectively ending the game. Brett’s consequent action was running out of the dugout and charging at the home plate umpire Tim McClelland, a rookie on his first full season.

However, he was restrained by the Royals manager Dick Houser and his team mates. This anger-tinged incident became one of baseball’s unforgettable scenes and shows Brett’s competitiveness. Meanwhile, Gaylord Perry of the Royals took the bat and attempted to get it into the clubhouse through a bat boy who was however intercepted by security.

The Aftermath of the Pine Tar Incident

The Royals later lodged a complaint with the American League president Lee MacPhail. He ruled in their favor by ordering the game be resumed from the point of Brett’s home run. His explanation to the decision was that excess pine tar on bats did not grant any unfair advantage and the intent behind the rule was a matter of reducing the cost of replacing balls discolored by the excessive pine tar. The use of excessive tar, though against the rules, did not impact on the homerun. He also added that Brett should not have been called out because of such a minor transgression.

Nonetheless, Brett was ejected for his outpour against McCleland. The Royals manager, Dick Houser was ejected too as he had argued with umpires. The Yankees tried everything in their power to avoid resuming the game. They went to an appellate court in Manhattan where they were represented by Roy Cohn, the legendary communist hunter. However, they lost the case.

The resumption game (also known as the Pine Tar Game) was played on 18th August at the Yankee Stadium and was attended by a total of 1,245 fans. In the game, Bill Martin made some surprising decisions. He placed Ron Guidry his star pitcher, in centerfield. Don Mattingly was at second base.

He made his pitcher appeal and say that George Bret had missed first and second base when he was rounding the bases. The umpiring team was a bunch of new people who had no idea whether George Brett touched the base. The Royals ended up winning the game 5-4. The Yankees disputed this result till the end of the season. Brett was not present at the game as he flew to Baltimore after his team touched down in New Jersey.

Since 1987, the controversial bat is displayed at the Baseball Hall of Fame. After the incident, Brett played with the bat in a few games but was warned that the bat would be invaluable if it broke. He sold it to Barry Harper, a collector and a shareholder of the Yankees for $25000. Later, he decided to repossess the bat and he reacquired it for the same amount.

He then donated it to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, a befitting end to one of baseball’s most interesting stories. A journalist, Ephraim Schwartz, captured and sold the home run ball to Halper for $500 and 12 Yankee tickets. Fillip Bondy, a veteran New York sportswriter covered the pine tar incident then and has written a book, The Pine Tar Game.