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.
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.
4,000 days since the Tigers release Jose Lima.
4,000 days since Detroit’s Eric Munson homers in his first big league at bat. It proves to be the difference, as the Tigers top the Yankees, 2-1.
7,000 days since Lou Whitaker hits a walk-off grand slam. It’s one of eight career walk-off home runs.
7,000 days since Boston scores 10 runs in the top of the first inning, on the way to topping Toronto, 13-1.
7,000 days since the Reds sign free agent outfielder Ron Gant.
20,000 days since Mort Cooper dies.
30,000 days since Babe Ruth’s 11th straight game with an RBI. He’s driven in 18 in that stretch.
1877 Candy Cummings, reputed inventor of the curve ball, plays in his last game.
1884 Oyster Burns makes his big league debut. He’ll be a decent player—plus he’s called Oyster Burns. Hee!
1890 Buck Weaver, Black Sox third baseman, is born.
1891 Wally Gerber, shortstop, is born.
1892 George Gore, star outfielder for the 1880s Cubs, appears in his last game.
1893 Burleigh Grimes, Hall of Famer and the last legal thrower of the spitball, is born.
1903 The Giants purchase infielder Art Devlin from Newark in the Eastern League. He’ll be a fixture on the team.
1903 The Phillies endure their ninth straight postponed game, a streak that began on Aug. 10.
1910 Fred Clark manages his 2,000th game. His record is 1,181-790, with plenty of ties.
1910 Minor leaguer (and future Hall of Fame White Sox pitcher) Red Faber throws a perfect game for Dubuque against Davenport in the Three-I League.
1913 Phillies pitcher Erskine Mayer sets an NL record by surrendering nine straight hits to the Cubs in the ninth inning. Thus an inning that began tied 4-4 becomes a 10-4 Chicago victory.
1915 Braves Field opens with an estimated crowd of 42,000 to 46,000 on hand. The defending world champion Braves win, 3-1.
1915 Detroit trades outfielder Baby Doll Jacobson to the Browns. This works out very well for St. Louis.
1915 George “High Pockets” Kelly, first baseman, makes his big league debut. He’ll end up in Cooperstown.
1915 Max Lanier, pitcher for the 1940s Cardinals, is born.
1915 Wilbur Good of the Cubs steals second, third and home in the sixth inning against Brooklyn.
1920 Bob Kennedy, pitcher, is born.
1922 Babe Ruth hits the ninth of 12 career walk-off home runs.
1922 Hall of Famer Goose Goslin legs out the first of nine career inside the park home runs.
1922 Commissioner Landis bans player Phil Douglass for life for involvement in the throwing of a regular season game.
1922 Hall of Fame first baseman Sunny Jim Bottomley makes his big league debut.
1925 Connie Mack manages his 4,000th game. His record is just a hair under .500: 1,971-1,973 (with a few dozen ties).
1925 Roger Peckinpaugh’s third sacrifice hit of the day is the 300th of his career. Only three men have 300 career sacrifice hits ever.
1927 The A’s all-time cumulative franchise record hits .500 (1,984-1,984). It’ll stay over this mark until 1941.
1928 Former Reds owner Marge Schott is born.
1929 Ted Lyons wins his 100th game, giving him a record of 100-82.
1929 Hank Gowdy, who last played in the majors in 1925, makes a memorable return by going 4-for-4 in a 10-9 Braves win over the Reds.
1934 Roberto Clemente, legendary outfielder, is born.
1936 Tigers second baseman Charlie Gehringer gets his 2,000th hit.
1937 Joe DiMaggio blasts the first of four career walk-off home runs.
1938 Tigers infielder Billy Rogell draw a walk for his seventh consecutive at-bat.
1938 Giants pitcher Carl Hubbell has to leave the game with sharp pain in his elbow. All those years of throwing the screwball are finally catching up with him.
1941 Chuck Klein hits his 300th home run, and it turns out to be the last one of his career. It’s a pinch-hit shot, too.
1941 Steve Gromek, maybe the longest lasting swingman pitcher of all-time, makes his big league debut.
1943 Early Wynn enjoys the longest outing of his career. Well, enjoys is probably the wrong word as he’s the hard luck losing pitcher as his Senators fall 3-2 in 14 frames to the White Sox. Wynn allows three runs—just one earned—in 13.1 innings while walking five and allowing 14 hits.
1945 Demonstrations scheduled at the Polo Grounds and Ebbetts Field to call for an end to segregated baseball are called off.
1951 Tigers pitcher Hank Borowy has arguably the worst outing ever. Coming out of the bullpen, he faces nine batters and all score—five hits, four walks, no outs, and nine runs. It’s the only time since 1920 a pitcher has allowed that many runs without getting a single out.
1953 The Senators come back big time to top the Yankees. They trail 8-1 after seven innings, but score twice in the top of the eighth and then seven times in the top of the ninth for a 10-8 win.
1955 Bruce Benedict, All-Star Braves catcher, is born.
1956 Frank Robinson enjoys the first of 54 career multi-home run games. It’s just part of eight homers hit by the Reds against the Braves today. The Braves hit two of their own, giving this game a then-record 10 homers overall. Cincinnati’s Bob Thurman hits three in this game. It’s the fourth straight month someone on the Reds hits three homers in a game.
1957 When Mickey Mantle hits a fourth-inning ground rule double, it gives his career batting average its all-time peak of .317241 (1,058 hits in 3,335 at-bats).
1960 Ron Santo enjoys the first of 26 multi-home run games.
1960 In a seven-inning game in the Midwest League, Bob Sprout fans 22 in a no-hitter. I can only assume one guy reached on a swinging strike three in the dirt.
1960 Milwaukee Braves stalwart pitcher Lew Burdette no-hits the Phillies for a 1-0 win. Burdette doesn’t walk anyone, but hits Tony Gonzalez in the fifth for the only base runner. Gonzalez gets gobbled up in a double play, so Burdette faces the bare minimum 27 batters on the day.
1961 Young Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson loses, giving him a career-low record seven games under .500 (14-21).
1964 Joe Christopher becomes the first player in 31 years to miss the cycle by a single while hitting two triples in the same game.
1965 It’s Hank Aaron’s lost home run. Against St. Louis, he hits one onto the roof, but St. Louis catcher Bob Uecker convinces the umpire that Aaron stepped beyond the batter’s box, so he’s called out instead.
1965 Hard-throwing reliever Ryne Duren appears in his last game.
1967 Mercurial A’s owner Charles Finley punishes some of his players. He suspends pitcher Lew Krausse for “conduct unbecoming a major leaguer.” He cuts star outfielder Hawk Harrelson, who claimed Finley was “detrimental to baseball.” I’m not sure what went on there.
1968 Umpire Chris Pelekousas calls three pitches by Cubs reliever Phil Regan illegal, allowing a batter to hit again. Thus Cincinnati’s Pete Rose singles after taking a third strike. Regan was known to thrown the occasional spitball. Pelekousas didn’t catch Regan red-handed, so didn’t eject him, but was so sure Regan was loading up that he took these unusual steps.
1968 Ron Santo has his worst game ever according to WPA. He’s 0-for-4 with a GIDP for a –0.559 WPA.
1970 Former Tigers outfielder Bobby Higginson is born.
1973 The Yankees release aging outfielder Johnny Callison.
1974 Earl Weaver manages his 1,000th game, with a record of 604-396.
1976 Nolan Ryan fans 17 in a 10-inning pitching performance. He gets the win as the Angels top the Tigers 5-4 in 11 frames.
1977 The Cubs trade pitcher Steve Renko to the White Sox.
1978 On his 23rd birthday, two-time All-Star catcher Bruce Benedict makes his major league debut.
1980 George Brett’s longest career hitting streak peaks at 30 games. He’s 57-for-122 with 10 doubles, three triples, and six homers in this stretch. By hitting .467 in it, he’s put himself into position to possibly hit .400. He falls short, ending the year with a .390 average.
1981 Steve Sax makes his big league debut.
1982 Mad Hungarian Al Hrabosky appears in his last game.
1982 The Dodgers finally beat the Cubs, 2-1 in 21 innings. The game began yesterday but had to be postponed due to darkness in pre-light Wrigley Field.
1987 John McNamara manages his 2,000th game. His record: 984-1,014 with a pair of ties.
1987 Charlie Hough fans a personal best 13 batters.
1987 Mark McGwire has his worst game ever according to WPA. He’s 0-for-4 with two GIDPs and a –0.370 WPA.
1988 Norm Charlton makes his big league debut.
1989 Andre Dawson belts his 2,000th hit.
1989 Willie Hernandez appears in his last game.
1990 Ryne Sandberg hits his 200th home run.
1993 Age be damned, 40-year-old Frank Tanana legs out his only career triple.
1995 Terminator Tom Henke records his 300th save.
1995 After 39 years in the booth, Yankees broadcaster Phil Rizzuto retires. Reportedly it’s because WPIX won’t let him go to Mickey Mantle’s funeral. He’ll return in 1996.
1996 Jim Thome hits his first ever grand slam.
1996 Seattle tops the Yankees 13-12 in a wild 12-inning game. Seattle blows an 8-0 lead, and it’s 10-10 heading into the 12th.
1998 Greg Maddux wins his 200th decision, for a 200-114 record. In this game, Maddux’s Braves teammates get nine hits—all of which are doubles. Weird.
1999 Lou Piniella records his 1,000th win as manager. He’s 1,000-926 on his career so far.
2000 The Angels come back to beat the Yankees, 9-8 in 11 innings. The Angels score four times in the ninth to tie it and win it on Darin Erstad’s extra-inning homer.
2001 Danny Almonte hurls a perfect game in the Little League World Series. It’ll later turn out that he’s older than claimed.
2002 Alex Rodriguez becomes the fourth person to tally six homers over three games.
2003 Frank Thomas hits his third career walk-off homer. He hit No. 2 just last month.
2003 There is a huge fight in a California League game. After a beaning, a player charges the mound with the bat and hits the pitcher in the back with it. He’s charged with felony assault and suspended for the rest of the season. Seventeen other players also receive suspensions for their role in the fight.
2004 Oakland’s Erubiel Durazo hits three homers in one game.
2004 The Spokane Indians top the Tri City Dust Devils, 2-1 in 23 innings in the Northwest League. It was scoreless until the 20th.
2009 Houston trades Ivan Rodriguez to Texas.
2010 The Cubs trade Derrek Lee to Atlanta.
2012 Adam Dunn launches his 400th home run.
2012 The Angels blow an eight-run lead, losing 10-8 to Tampa.
2012 Houston fires manager Brad Mills.