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Archive for Friday, July 25, 2003

Pine-tar incident still follows Brett

July 25, 2003

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— George Brett says the bat he used in the fabled "Pine Tar Incident" at Yankee Stadium 20 years ago Thursday pales in comparison to the one with which he got his 3,000th hit almost a decade later.

Brett, the baseball Hall-of-Famer who spent 21 years with the Kansas City Royals, hit a two-run homer in the top of the ninth against the Yankees July 24, 1983, giving his team a 5-4 lead.

But New York manager Billy Martin immediately protested that the pine tar, which players use to give them a tighter grip, extended too far up the shaft of Brett's bat. Umpire Tim McClelland examined the bat and agreed, nullifying the home run and calling Brett out.

The enraged Brett, in a scene that's been replayed time and again on television over the years, charged out of the dugout and had to be restrained from the umpire.

Brett said this week that the bat he used for his 3000th hit Sept. 30, 1992, actually had more pine tar on it.

"I have that bat ... on a wall in my basement, and I guarantee you it has far more pine tar on it than the one I got called out for," he said. "The 3,000th-hit bat is ugly. It's a mess. Pine tar all the way up it."

The "Pine Tar" bat has been at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., for almost a decade.

Brett is used to being asked and kidded about the incident.

"I remember walking into Office Depot one time and the guy waiting on me said, 'Oh, sorry, I think we're out of pine tar,'" Brett said. "Or if I go golfing at some charity event, someone will always say, 'Hey, don't be loading up on the pine tar on that driver.' There's usually about nine guys who say that and think they're the first ones who've ever thought about it."

Brett never wore batting gloves many players use to improve their grip, always relying on a good helping of pine tar. He knew the rule specifying that the tar be no more than 18 inches above the bat handle, but thought it wouldn't be enforced.

In the celebrated game against the Yankees, Brett hit the home run off hard-throwing reliever Rich Gossage. When the fiery Martin made an issue about the bat, McClelland checked the bat, using the 17-inch-wide home plate to determine the extent of the pine tar, and called Brett out.

As the furious Brett raced onto the field, his arms flailing and a wild look in his eyes, other umpires and manager Dick Howser intervened to keep him away from McClelland.

"I always wondered what George was thinking," McClelland said. "I'm 6 feet 5, 260 pounds. What exactly was George going to do once he got to me?"

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