December 10, 2013
Get It Now!Hardball Times Annual is now available. It's got 300 pages of articles, commentary and even a crossword puzzle. You can buy the Annual at Amazon, for your Kindle or on our own page (which helps us the most financially). However you buy it, enjoy!
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Sunday, August 18, 2013
Thirty years ago today, one of the strangest games of all-time came to an end. It had begun long before, just one reason it was so strange. This was an iconic game that an entire generation of baseball fans can recall.
It was the Pine Tar Game that recorded its last out 30 years ago today.
It began more than three weeks earlier, on July 24, 1983. On that day, in the top of the ninth, with the Yankees leading 4-2 over the visiting Kansas City Royals, star third baseman George Brett hit an apparently game-changing three-run homer.
However, instead of the Royals having a 5-4 lead, Brett was soon called out. Yankees skipper Billy Martin knew that Brett had too much pine tar on his bat. By rule, that’s illegal and as such Brett’s hit was disallowed.
Brett famously went ballistic; charging out of the dugout like he was going to murder every umpire in sight, but the umpires had the rulebook on their side. Since Brett was out, the inning was over—and the Yankees had triumphed. The Royals lodged a protest, but that didn’t seem to mean much. Teams lodge protests all the time and they virtually never get upheld.
But this was the protest that made me say “virtually never” instead of flatly “never.” You see, though the umpires did call the rule technically correctly, AL President Lee MacPhail declared that the judgment wasn’t in the spirit of the rules. Pine tar doesn’t help the ball travel farther, after all. He reinstated the homer and now KC had a 5-4 lead again.
Now it was the Yankees' turn to cry foul. They thought it was absurd, and even took the AL to court. However, the judge dismissed the Yankees' complaint and made his own ruling—play ball! After all, Brett’s homer came in the top of the ninth, not the bottom of the ninth. The game wasn't over and the Yankees could still win. So next time it worked out on the schedule, KC would come to the Bronx to face the Yankees.
As far as Martin was concerned, this was garbage. He called out Brett on the rules fair and square and had his savvy managing upended by some damn nosy executive.
Well, Martin could lodge one protest of his own. No, not an official protest to the office. He could show what a farce it was with his lineup. Needing just one more out in the top of the ninth, he changed half of his position players. Some of the lineup changes weren’t a big deal, like putting Butch Wynegar in at catcher for Rick Cerone. But why would you shift Don Mattingly from his natural first base to second? He throws left-handed. Also, Martin put veteran pitcher Ron Guidry in center field. Bonus: Guidry would be due up bat in the bottom of the ninth.
Martin was just thumbing his nose at the scene, figuring it wouldn’t make any difference. It didn’t, as reliever George Frazier struck out Hal McRae for the last out.
Now came the bottom of the ninth. The first two Yankees flew out, bringing up veteran batter Oscar Gamble to pinch-hit for “center fielder” Guidry. Gamble grounded to second, ending the game.
It was an anticlimax, but it was anticlimax that happened 30 years ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball items today celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” (which is something that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim.
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