July 24, 2008


Pine-Tarred and Feathered (Jim Kaplan, 7/24/08, SI.com)

Earlier in the season, Yankee third baseman Graig Nettles had noticed extensive pine tar on Brett's bat and informed Martin. They had waited for a propitious moment to complain. McClelland measured the bat against the 17-inch width of home plate and discovered pine tar up to 23 inches from the knob. Whereupon, he ruled the homer illegal and the batter out, thus ending the game with the Yankees winning, 4-3.

The scene that followed will be replayed as long as there is videotape. Bug-eyed with rage, accelerating from zero to 60 faster than any test car on the Bonneville Salt Flats, Brett charged out of the dugout with the 6'6" McLelland in his sights. Fortunately, another umpire, Joe Brinkman, interceded, and Brett was merely ejected rather than indicted for assault and battery or worse. The Royals appealed McClelland's ruling.

With the game over, at least temporarily, those of us who covered baseball and lived in the Big Apple had time to react and reflect. New York had always been home to the crazy and unexpected, and this was no different. For a city that had endured an economic crisis, the Son of Sam killings and the "Bronx is Burning" blackouts/riots of just a few years earlier, this zaniness was tame by comparison, though still familiar in Gotham City.

The personae were perfectly cast. Brett always seemed to be in the headlines. After batting .390 in 1980 for the highest average since Ted Williams' .406 in 1941, he had left Game 2 of the World Series with hemorrhoid pain and cheerfully endured minor surgery and endless ribbing ("Let's get to the bottom of this.") The future Hall of Famer would win batting titles in a record three decades and join the 3,000 hit club.

Billy Martin could hardly open his mouth without creating controversy. As a player, he had been traded from his beloved Yankees in 1957 following his role in the Copacabana nightclub rumble on his 29th birthday and years later was sued for breaking the jaw of an opposing pitcher. While managing five teams over 16 seasons including the Yankees five times, he slapped a traveling secretary and got fired at various stops for roughing up another pitcher, fighting with a marshmallow salesman and saying -- five years to the day before the Pine Tar Game -- of Yankees slugger Reggie Jackson and Watergate felon/team owner George Steinbrenner: "The two of them deserve each other -- one's a born liar, the other's convicted." Whatever his indiscretions off the field, Martin was a genius as a manager, winning five division titles, two pennants and a World Series. Hence the famous Sports Illustrated cover reading: "Baseball's Fiery Genius."

The pine-tar incident loomed so large -- and so weird -- that it made the front page of the New York Times. While American League President Lee MacPhail pondered the appeal, Times columnist Ira Berkow had some fun after the bat arrived at league headquarters:

Berkow: "Were there any fingerprints on it?"

(MacPhail's assistant) Bob Fishel: "I didn't see any."

Berkow: "Are there any now, after you held it?"

Fishel: "Not mine. I can tell you that. I held it by the ends."

Berkow: "As if you were eating corn on the cob?"

Fishel: "Sort of, but without the margarine."

Berkow: "Margerine?"

Fishel: "Butter's high in cholesterol."

...who Billy put in CF when they resumed the game, to show his contempt for the ruling (no peeking)?

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 24, 2008 8:04 PM

Guidry in CF, Mattingly at 2b...

Posted by: Foos at July 25, 2008 9:48 AM
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