George Brett says he never tires, even after 30 years, of discussing that indelible baseball moment that took place on a remarkably pleasant Sunday afternoon — temperatures in the mid-70s — for late July in the Bronx.
That’s right. Wednesday will mark 30 years —
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since the Pine Tar Game at Yankee Stadium.
“It’s a positive thing,” Brett insisted Tuesday at a memory-laden news conference at Kauffman Stadium a few hours before the Royals continued their four-game series against the Baltimore Orioles.
“It’s not a ground ball through my legs or a strikeout. It’s something that I did (well). I hit a home run off one of the toughest relief pitchers in baseball, a Hall of Fame guy.”
If you’re a baseball fan (and probably even if you aren’t), you’ve seen the tape of Brett hitting a dramatic two-run homer with two outs in the ninth inning against Yankees closer Goose Gossage on July 24, 1983.
And you’ve seen what came next: New York manager Billy Martin pointing at a bat lathered in pine tar as Brett reclined in the dugout.
And then home-plate umpire Tim McClelland, measuring how much of the bat was covered by pine-tar by placing it against the plate. Too much, he decided; beyond the allowable limit of 18 inches from the tip of the handle.
Slowly, McClelland raised his right arm to signal Brett was out, the homer didn’t count, the game was over and the Yankees had won. And an enraged Brett charged from the dugout like a Baskerville hound.
“When the umpires called me out,” Brett said, “my protest kind of made it famous. When I saw the video, I was amazed at my reaction. I couldn’t believe it. I had no clue that I did that.
“I knew I ran out on the field, but that’s the type of player I was. I wore my emotions on my sleeve. I played hard. When a call like that goes against you, you’re going to react.”
Royals manager Dick Howser was a step behind. Umpire Joe Brinkman, who was working the game at second base, grabbed Brett from behind in a partial chokehold to prevent a presumed attack on McClelland.
“If it was Cleveland,” Brett said, “would it have been that big of a deal? I don’t think so. But New York is New York.”
McClelland’s ruling stood, but the Royals filed a protest that American League president Lee MacPhail upheld. MacPhail ordered the game resumed from the point of the homer.
The Royals returned Aug. 18 and closed out a 5-4 victory after the umpiring crew — a different crew — produced an affidavit from the original crew that Brett had touched all four bases on his homer.
That affidavit anticipated a protest by Martin that there was no way the new crew could validate the homer. It has all become one of the sport’s iconic moments.
“It’s what I’m known for,” Brett said. “From 1980, playing in the World Series against the Phillies when I had a case of hemorrhoids, whenever I went on the on-deck circle until July 24, 1983, I heard every hemorrhoid joke in the world. I was the hemorrhoid guy.
“All of a sudden, after July 24, 1983, to now, I have to remind people I had hemorrhoids. So what would you rather be remembered for — the slippery stuff or the sticky stuff?”