Brett embraces memory of Pine Tar Game
NEW YORK -- The way George Brett figures it, there are lots of worse ways he could be remembered.
In addition to his Hall of Fame career as a hitter, Brett is best known for a moment of losing his cool. On July 24, 1983, at the old Yankee Stadium, Brett hit a home run off Goose Gossage that gave his Royals a one-run lead over the rival Yankees. But New York manager Billy Martin requested Brett's bat be checked, and it was determined that there was an illegal amount of pine tar on the handle.
Umpire Tim McClelland thus ruled Brett out, erasing the runs. Brett went ballistic, charging from the visitors' dugout, and had to be restrained in one of the stranger scenes ever seen on a baseball field.
The Royals played under protest, a protest that was eventually upheld. The game was resumed on Aug. 18 and finished with a Kansas City win.
As the 30th anniversary of that game approaches, Brett serves as the Royals' hitting coach, and thus the topic came up with his team's return to the Bronx. He embraces the memory, fully aware that it could be much worse. He pointed to Bill Buckner, a longtime friend of Brett's who is remembered for a missed play in the 1986 World Series.
"To be remembered as a guy that hit a home run off one of the great closers of all time, Goose Gossage, with a bat that was, I guess, suspected of being illegal and proven not to be, and then having it reversed, I'm known for something positive, where Bill Buckner is known for something negative," Brett said.
Plus, Brett himself had a much more painful association with his name in the early 1980s, missing part of Game 2 of the 1980 World Series due to hemorrhoids. It's fair to say he took a lot of grief for that.
"From October of 1980 to July 24, 1983, that's what I heard," he said. "And from July 24 to 2013, now I'm the 'pine tar' guy. So it's really the greatest thing that ever happened. Thank you, Billy Martin. ... I went from having an embarrassing thing that people remembered me for to something positive."
Brett is friends with Gossage to this day, and said that McClelland handled the incident with grace and class after the game. In short, he has no complaints about having to answer questions about that day, even 30 years later.
"I think that just showed my desire to win," he said. "Especially in New York. This was always a very exciting place for me to play. I loved coming here and playing. I loved it when the fans booed me, which they did often. I loved the challenge of going out there and playing against a great Yankee team. And to do something that not a lot of people did, hit a home run off Goose, was a big thrill. And then to have it taken away over some trivial part of the rule book, I just lost it."
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.