Pine-Tarred and Feathered
Twenty-five years ago today,
What followed seemed at first difficult to understand but would prove impossible to forget. Yankee manager
Martin was appealing the homer primarily under the little-known and rarely (if ever) enforced rule 1.10 (b): "The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from the end, may be covered or treated with any material (including pine tar) to improve the grip. Any such material, including pine tar, which extends past the 18 inch limitation, shall cause the bat to be removed from the game."
Earlier in the season, Yankee third baseman
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
The pine-tar incident loomed so large -- and so weird -- that it made the front page of the
On July 28 MacPhail upheld the appeal, allowed the homer to stand and ruled that the game must be resumed with the Royals leading 5-4 and two outs in the ninth. Did you notice that Rule 1.10 (b) merely said that the bat must be ejected from the game, not the player? Another rule, American League regulation 4.23, said, "The use of pine tar in itself shall not be considered doctoring the bat. The 18-inch rule shall not be cause for ejection or suspension." Moreover, there was a precedent in 1975, when
Martin and Nettles had relied on the umpires' ignorance; they were foiled by the league office's research. Rather than graciously accept defeat, Steinbrenner said, "I wouldn't want to be Lee MacPhail living in New York!"
Recalcitrant to the end, the Yankees fielded pitcher
A personal note: I was following the pine-tar episode from afar while on vacation on July 24, 1983. I returned in time to edit