Revisiting George Brett’s Pine Tar incident with then-Royals pitcher Bud Black

39 years ago today, the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees faced off in one of MLB’s most infamous incidents: George Brett’s Pine Tar Incident. Rockies manager Bud Black was the Royals’ starting pitcher that day.

MILWAUKEE- Colorado Rockies Manager Bud Black loves baseball history. He brings it up with his players and coaches and will often mention it in the media, even without provocation.

For example, on the series before the All-Star break, he asked members of the media who the “Mendoza Line” was named after (Mario Mendoza, with whom Black spent time organizing the Seattle Mariners in the late ’70s and ’80s. The Mendoza Line is also known for hitting .200, but Mendoza actually hit .214 in his MLB career).

Black is also known for his great memory. For example, he knew he gave three home runs in his first appearance at Wrigley Field when he was with the Giants in 1991 (he also knew he gave Luis Salazar two and one to Hector Villanueva as a backup catcher).

Sunday is the anniversary of the Pine Tar Incident, when Kansas City Royals Third baseman George Brett was called out by the umpires after hitting a home run with two outs and a ninth inning to take the lead against the New York Yankees because they felt he had pine tar too high on his bat.

The royals happened to be black starting pitcher That day and weekend when the Rockies were in Milwaukee, he told FanSided all about that day and remembered it like it was yesterday.

Bud Black reflects on George Brett Pine Tar’s incident against the Yankees

Black was in his third season in the major leagues and in 1983 in his first as a full-time starting pitcher. He started the season at Triple-A Omaha before being called up to the majors in late May.

Black had a good season in his July 24 start at Yankee Stadium against the New York Yankees. In the majors, he had a 4-3 record with a 3.39 ERA in 11 starts and averaging 6.2 innings per start. He’s had a run as he’s averaged almost eight innings per start in his last three starts with a 2.70 ERA.

However, he faced a tough lineup on Sunday, July 24. That lineup included a future Hall of Famer (Dave Winfield) and many others who were All-Stars that year or in previous years (Bert Campaneris, Don Baylor, Graig Nettles, and Lou Piniella, among others). Black wasn’t as sharp as he conceded seven hits and four earned runs in six innings. Three of the four runs came in his last inning.

He left the game in a 4-4 draw. It stayed that way until the ninth inning when future Hall of Famer George Brett hit a two-out home run in the ninth inning against future Hall of Famer Goose Gossage. It was a towering shot into right field.

Black takes it from there:

“For me personally, I was in the gym and I iced my arm,” Black told FanSided. (Black later switched to putting heat on his arm after Hall of Famer Bob Feller told him that heat was better than ice.) “I was with (Redeemer) Mike Armstrong (who came in to replace Black). So when George hit the homer, I was in the practice room, (looking at a) little black and white TV at old Yankee Stadium. We’re giving high fives and George has been putting up a fight the whole time for this opportunity. I saw (Yankees manager) Billy (Martin) come out of the dugout and (Yankees third baseman Graig) Nettles started clapping his glove. (The camera crew) pans to George and back to the umpires and we’re like, ‘Oh shit. Something bad is going to happen.’ Then (home plate umpire Tim) McClelland walked over to our dugout and gave the out signal.

Then George Brett goes insane. He sprints out of the dugout, roaring and screaming. He’s so agitated that referee crew chief Joe Brinkman (who served as crew chief his first season) has to put him in a choke hold as he pulls back.

On the Yankees TV feed (at about 2:16:51 in this YouTube video from MLB), it cuts to Gaylord Perry (another future Hall of Famer) and outfielder Leon Roberts running into the clubhouse with the bat. The referees noticed this and followed them.

“What was crazy is that the umpires kept looking for the racquet after that,” Black said. “They say ‘Where’s the bat?’ Gaylord Perry and Leon Roberts took the bat and brought it to our clubhouse. And the umpires actually came to our clubhouse, which is rare. So I’m in the clubhouse and all of a sudden I see umpires come into the clubhouse and say, “Where’s the bat?” and I say ‘which bat?’ We all say, “What bat?” The umpires get upset and say, “Where’s the friggin’ bat?” and we all say, “What bat are you talking about?” They ended up getting the bat, but it was kind of funny to see umpires walking around the clubhouse trying to get the bat.

The Royals and their late manager Dick Howser protested the game. The game took place on a Sunday. The following Thursday (July 28) the out was overturned and the royals’ protest was successful. This was only the 13th time in MLB history that a protest was successful and play was allowed to continue from there.

At the time, the American League (where the Royals and Yankees played) and the National League had separate offices. These offices reported to the MLB commissioner (the AL and NL offices were dissolved into the MLB Central Office after the 1999 season). In this practice, too, the two leagues had separate referees who were only integrated after the 1999 season.

On July 28, American League President Lee MacPhail (who died in 2012 at the age of 95) recanted the exclamation because the pine tar “did not increase the distance potential.”

“George very rarely broke bats and that was his player (bat),” Black said. “For months the pine tar just ran up the barrel.”

As a result, the game would continue. The clubs had a common rest day on Thursday 18 August, so it was decided that the game would end on that day.

Black says his best memories of the situation come from returning to New York.

“The best memories of that day were when we came back,” Black said. “We went back to play (for) four outs. We flew (to New York and) to Baltimore (after the game). We had to (close in) Dan Quisenberry (who died of brain cancer in 1998) to get the save. The beauty of it was that he knew he was pitching and as a closer you never know. When you get to the park, you don’t know if you’re pitching. He’d known for (three weeks) and he was nervous as hell on the plane (to New York). So you have the combination of George (Brett) who got kicked out of the game and (others who didn’t want to play or got kicked out) who (relax) and Quisenberry were nervous…George and the guys who did me didn’t have to play, went to New Jersey for lunch (the Royals flew to Newark International Airport). We flew TWA (which was sold to American Airlines in 2001). Our director who made the certificate was Larry Ameche, a relative of Don Ameche, the actor.

But this time at Yankee Stadium, it was unlike any other experience at Yankee Stadium because there was hardly anyone there.

“We got off the bus at Yankee Stadium and nobody was there, which is the opposite of what it usually is at Yankee Stadium,” Black said. “That was strange. It was a ghost town. There were a few scattered fans. I had to go (to the stadium) because it was my day to throw to the side. We arrived, we got dressed, the boys went out and played catch, the Yankees did the same, and then ‘let’s go.’ One of the best parts of that was the Yankees came out on the field and the home plate umpire said, “Play ball” and (the Yankees) called out any base.”We think George missed the first, we think George missed the second, we think George missed the third.” They came to the first: ‘safe’, to the second (base) ‘safe’, to the third ‘safe’.”

But there was a problem: The American League had hired four new umpires (an entirely different crew) to work the rest of the game, since the previous umpire crew of Crew Chief Joe Brinkman, Nick Bremigan, Drew Coble, and Tim McClelland ( the home plate umpire who called out Brett) traveled from Seattle to Texas.

“[B]But we had four new umpires,” Black said. “So (Yankees) manager Billy Martin comes out. “How do you know?! You weren’t even here! How do you know George has touched all the bases?’ (Crew Chief) Davey Phillips shows an affidavit (taken from his pocket by one of MacPhail’s assistants, signed by the original four umpires) stating “George touched every base.” The[American League Office]tried to think of everything.”

The Yankees then protested the game themselves (which were unsuccessful). The Yankees brought in George Frazier to Gossage’s relief, and he pulled Hal McRae (the hitter after Brett) back out of the top of the ninth inning for the finale. But since Billy Martin thought it was pointless and he was protesting the game anyway, he decided to mess up his defense.

“(Left-handed first baseman Don) Mattingly was on second base and (left-handed starting pitcher) Ron Guidry was in midfield,” Black said. “(At the end of the ninth inning) Quisenberry pulled them back one, two, three. We showered very quickly, got dressed, got on the bus and headed to the airport. It was the damn thing. Then we flew to Baltimore. We were on the field for about seven minutes.”

Since then, the MLB rules have been changed in this regard and are often known as “The George Brett Rule”. In which 2021 MLB rulebookit usually states (rule 3.02(c)):

“The handle of the racquet shall not be covered or treated more than 18 inches from its end with any material or fabric to improve grip. Any such material or substance in excess of the 18 inch restriction will result in the club being removed from play.

“NOTE: If the umpire determines that the batter does not comply with (c) above by any point during or after the batter has been used in the game, that shall not be grounds for a batter being declared out or disqualified from the game . ”

For what it’s worth, George Brett is happy to be known as “The Pine Tar Guy” as he was previously known as “The Hemorrhoids Guy”. He was forced to abandon Game 2 of the 1980 World Series in the sixth inning after suffering from severe hemorrhoidal problems.

“Before that, I was known as the hemorrhoid guy in the 1980 World Series,” said Brett The New York Daily News in 2015. “From 1980 to July 24, 1983, on the street I walked to on deck, I heard every hemorrhoid joke imaginable. After July 25, I was the pine tar guy. So what would you rather be remembered as? It’s pretty easy.” Revisiting George Brett’s Pine Tar incident with then-Royals pitcher Bud Black

John Verrall

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