Brett: 30 years later, 'Pine Tar Game' lives

July, 9, 2013
7/09/13
8:34
PM ET
George BrettBrad Penner/USA TODAY SportsGeorge Brett fondly recalled the "Pine Tar Game" before Tuesday's Royals-Yanks game in the Bronx.
NEW YORK -- George Brett can't escape that infamous day.

At the golf course, his partners always want to examine his golf club, just to check if he has any pine tar on it. During spring training, when he gives his annual speech to the Kansas City Royals' minor leaguers, some young player who wasn't even alive at the time always asks about it.

Thirty years later, the "Pine Tar Game" still follows the Hall of Famer everywhere he goes.

"It's amazing how much play this one at-bat, or this one hit, has gotten over the years," Brett said in a news conference Tuesday in honor of the pending 30-year anniversary. "I guess it's unprecedented."

[+] EnlargeBrett
Getty ImagesBrett's explosive reaction to the umpires reversing his home run has become the stuff of legend.
On July 24, 1983, Brett hit a ninth-inning homer off Yankees closer Goose Gossage to put the Royals up, 5-4, at the old Yankee Stadium. After Yankees manager Billy Martin had the umpires examine Brett's bat, it was ruled that he had pine tar above the regulated 18-inch mark, constituting an illegal bat, and he was called out, thus nullifying the homer.

In one of the iconic scenes in baseball history, Brett furiously ran from the dugout, screaming and pointing at home plate umpire Tim McClelland as he was restrained by his teammates. The third baseman was simply making good on a promise he had made moments before to teammate Frank White.

"I go, 'If they call me out on pine tar, I'll go out there and kill one of those SOBs,'" Brett said.

He added: "To do something that not a lot of people did -- hit a home run off Goose --was a big thrill. To have it taken away over some trivial part of a rule book, I just lost it."

The Yankees, at the time, went on to win the game, 5-4, but the Royals protested the result. Four days later, AL President Lee MacPhail overruled the umpires and ruled it a homer. The two teams met on Aug. 18, 1983, to finish the final four outs, with Brett, who was ejected, watching on television near Newark Airport while chomping down on some Italian food. The Royals held on to win, 5-4.

While Brett was in no joking mood 30 years ago, he laughed it up while recalling the game on Tuesday. He vividly remembered the details of the day, including that he was using a seven-grain bat, which is a very strong type of wood. He also said that he and Gossage are now close friends after once being bitter enemies.

Brett said he doesn't believe that one moment overshadows his Hall of Fame career.

"I think people realize that in 1980 I came five hits from hitting .400, the closest guy since Ted Williams did it in 1941," Brett said. "People know that and people know of the All-Star Games and 3,000 hits. This is just an asterisk to go along with it. I'm fine with that."

Brett appreciates being remembered for that game -- certainly compared to what had become his signature moment earlier in his career.

"Prior to the 'Pine Tar Game' on July 24, 1983, and after the World Series in 1980, every city I went to I was the hemorrhoids guy," Brett said in reference to leaving Game 2 of the World Series early due to hemorrhoid pain. "From July 24 to 2013, I'm the pine tar guy. So, really it's the greatest thing that ever happened to me. Thank you Billy Martin, thank you Graig Nettles. [I] went from having an embarrassing thing that people remember you for to something positive."

Matt Ehalt

ESPN New York contributor

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TEAM LEADERS

WINS LEADER
Masahiro Tanaka
WINS ERA SO IP
13 2.77 141 136
OTHER LEADERS
BAJ. Ellsbury .271
HRB. McCann 23
RBIB. McCann 75
RB. Gardner 87
OPSB. Gardner .749
ERAH. Kuroda 3.71
SOH. Kuroda 146