The umpire crew in the George Brett pine tar incident did get it correct. Then they changed the rule. The following is taken from ESPN’s countdown of the 100 most memorable moments of the last 25 years #67. “Home Run Nullified, Brett Goes Ballistic.” Billy Martin, the mischievous manager of the New York Yankees, had waited for this moment for more than a year. He knew that George, the Kansas City Royals’ all-star third baseman, was breaking an obscure rule. But Martin wasn’t going to reveal his secret until it mattered, until it had an effect on a Yankees-Royals game.

The time finally came on July 23, 1983. The Yankees led 4-3 in the 9th inning. Goose Gossage, the Yankees’ dominant closer, was called in to protect the lead. The Yankees, locked in a first-place tie with Baltimore, needed this victory.



Two out and one on. George steps in against Gossage, a hard-throwing righty with a menacing persona and delivery. He unleashes one of his signature fastballs and Brett connects, hammering a bomb over the right field wall. The dramatic two-run homer gives the Royals a 5-4 lead.


As the ball descends into the stands, Martin turns to Sammy Ellis, one of his coaches, and winks as Brett happily rounds the bases. Martin pops out of the dugout to protest the fact that Brett’s bat is covered with more than 18″ of pine tar, the most allowed by major league rules.


His hands in his back pockets, Martin walks slowly toward home plate ump Tim McClelland. “That bat is illegal,” Martin says, pointing to the bat lying a few feet from the on-deck circle. “There’s too much pine tar. Measure it.”

McClelland is speechless. The Royals have no idea what’s happening. Brett is sitting in the dugout, relaxed and confident, his arms stretched out along the top of the dugout seats, confident that whatever Martin is saying will be overruled by the umps.

McClelland retrieves the bat, walks to the plate, and places it along the side of the plate which is 17″ wide. He sees that the pine tar on the bat is more than 18″. McClelland confers with a rule book and his fellow umpires, then slowly walks toward the Royals’ dugout, the bat dangling from his right hand. He stares inside the Royals’ dugout, slowly brings his arm up and signals out. Martin is correct – the bat is illegal, the home run is nullified, Brett is out, and the Yankees win 4-3.

Brett bursts out of the dugout, sprinting to the umpires, insanely, hysterically, out of control, screaming, eyes bulging, arms waving. He nearly runs over McClelland and has to be restrained by several umpires.

“The sight of George coming out of the dugout is etched in my mind forever,” Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly would say on the 10th anniversary of the game. “That roar symbolizes the way he plays the game, the kind of fire he has.”

Later, Brett is seething in the clubhouse. Meanwhile Martin walks around the Yankees’ clubhouse gloating, realizing he had just pulled off a doozy, a first in baseball history.

The Royals file a protest with the league office, and the events of the next few days and weeks are both coical and tense. Questions arise as to whether the umpire’s ruling will be upheld. Rumor and speculation run rampant.

On July 28th, four days after the game with the baseball world waiting breathlessly, American League president Lee MacPhail announces that even though Brett’s bat had too much pine tar, only the bat should have been removed from the game, not the batter. He upholds the Royals’ protest and says the two teams must resume the game in Yankee Stadium in While the Royals rejoice, the Yankees, especially Martin and Yankees’ owner George Steinbrenner seethe.

McClelland is displeased too saying, “We can’t arbitrarily rule on which rules we’re going to enforce.”

Naturally, Steinbrenner will not let it go quietly. The blustery owner goes all out to try to prevent the game from being resumed. First he clais he cannot provide adequate security for the game. Then he disputes the league’s rain check policy. Anything to prevent the game from going on.

Several hours before the scheduled resumption of the game, the State Supreme Court in the Bronx issues a preliminary injunction barring the completion of the game. But the American League, which had ordered the game to be played over objection of Steinbrenner, appeals. Just 2 1/2 hours before game time, Justice Joseph P. Sullivan of the Supreme Court’s Appellate Division overrules Justic Mareca’s decision, proclaiming, “Play Ball.”

Anticipating the game, the Royals have been forced to fly to New York on their way to Baltimore for a series with the Orioles. When they arrive, they still are not sure they are going to play because of the court hearings. Finally word arrives: head over to Yankee Stadium. The game is on.

Brett, however, is not required to go to the stadium because he has been ejected from the game, so he watches on TV with his manager Dick Howser, also ejected. What they and everyone sees is astonishing: first, Martin tries to make a joke out of the game by putting left-handed first baseman, Mattingly, at second base and pitcher Ron Guidry in center field. Then before a pitch is even thrown, before the crowd of 1,245, Martin protests that Brett didn’t touch first base on his homer. He orders his pitcher, George Frazier, to step off the rubber and toss the ball to Ken Griffey at first. Tim Welk, the first base umpire signals safe. Then Martin protests that Brett didn’t touch second. So Frazier throws to second base and Dave Phillips, the umpire there, also signals safe.

Martin then emerges from the dugout to protest the calls. But the league office has anticipated Martin’s move, and one ups the Yankees skipper when Phillips, the crew chief, pulls a letter from his pocket, a notarized statement from the umpires at the July 24th game confirming that both Brett and U.L. Washington, who had singled ahead of Brett’s home run, had touched all of the bases.

Finally the game restarts. Frazier gets McRae to end the top of the 9th. Royals closer Dan Quisenberry comes on to face the Yankees in the bottom of the 9th. Martin stacks his lineup with lefthanders. Yankee lefthanders are hitting .451 again Quisenberry in his five last outings against New York, while righties are hitless in 13 at bats.

But Quisenberry needs only 10 pitches to retire Mattingly on a fly to center field, Roy Smalley on a fly to left field and Oscar Gamble on a grounder to second base.

The final out of the top of the ninth and the three outs in in the bottom of the inning takes all of nine minutes and 41 seconds ending a 25 day, 4 hour and 14 minutes episode that will live forever.

At that time MLB Rule 1.10c stated, “The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from the end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. Any such material or substance, which extends past the 18 inch limitation, shall cause the bat to be removed from the game.” At that time such a hit was defined in the rules as an illegally batted ball, and the penalty for hitting “an illegally batted ball” was that the batter was to be declared out, under the explicit terms of the then existing provisions of Rule 6.06. However, in explaining his decision, MacPhail noted the “spirit of restriction” on pine tar on bats was based not on the fear of unfair advantage, but simple economics; any contact with pine tar would discolor the ball, render it unsuitable for play, and require that it be discarded and replaced thus increasing the home teams’s cost of supplying balls for a given game. MacPhail ruled that George had not violated the spirit of the rules nor deliberately “altered [the bat] to improve the distance factor. He also followed his own precedent, established after a protest in 1975 of the September 7th game played between the Royals and the Angels. In that game the umpire crew had declined to negate one of John Mayberry’s home runs for excessive pine tar use. MacPhail upheld the umpires’ decision with the view that the intent of the rule was to prevent baseballs from being discolored in game play, and that any discoloration that may have occurred to a ball leaving the ballpark did not affect the game’s competitive balance. MacPhail thus ordered the July 24th game resumed with two outs in the top of the ninth inning with the Royals leading 5-4. He also ruled that Brett was to be ejected for his outburst against McClelland. Dick Hower was also ejected for arguing with the umpires and Gaylord Perry was ejected for giving the bat to the batboy so he could hide it in the clubhouse


 During the Brett pine tar era, I had many requests to check bats on the 18″ rule. If you watch MLB on TV as we do, you will have amateur coaches and players testing you when they see these things happen. I always have my Rule Book near when watching a game on TV. Never carry your rule book on the field as you should not look things up. That could open yourself up for all kinds of interpretation. Remember you are the Rule Book in the Flesh!

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