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Pine-tarred and feathered

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Posted: Friday July 23, 1999 03:21 PM

  George Brett The pine tar controversy led to four ejections and a suspended game that was resumed almost two weeks later. AP

By Steve Wulf

Sports Illustrated Flashback George Brett's dramatic two-run homer off Rich Gossage with two outs in the ninth inning lifted the Kansas City Royals to a 5-4 victory over the New York Yankees last Thursday at Yankee Stadium. Mike Armstrong (6-6) picked up the win with ninth-inning relief help from Dan Quisenberry . Time of the game: three weeks, four days, four hours and 14 minutes. If it were only that simple.

But this was it: The Game That Refused To Die. Between Brett's homer into the rightfield seats on July 24 and Quisenberry's retiring of Oscar Gamble at 6:20 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 18, came sound and fury, law vs. justice and far too many pine tar jokes.

To summarize briefly: Brett's homer was disallowed by the umpires because the pine tar on his bat extended more than 18 inches, and the Yankees won the game 4-3; American League President Lee MacPhail wisely overruled the umpires and said that Brett's homer stood and that the game was to be resumed; the Yankees predictably squawked; Brett, manager Dick Howser , coach Rocky Colavito and pitcher Gaylord Perry were thrown out of the game 12 days after it was suspended; the Yankees squawked some more; George Steinbrenner said that MacPhail had better move to Kansas City for his own safety; the Yankees blamed their losing ways (nine wins and 13 losses since MacPhail's decision) on the damn game; and the damn game was scheduled to resume last Thursday, an off day for both teams.

If the Yankees had any sense, they would have given up the ghost weeks ago and schedule a gala promotion for, say, The Shortest Game. Fans could have been given little bats with pine tar on them; Brett and Gossage could have played Wiffle Ball before the game, minor league teams could have been flown in to play a real game, any of a dozen bright ideas could have made the day fun and pleasant. But no. Said Yankee general manager Murray Cook , "We chose not to grace a bad decision."

Instead, they disgraced themselves. Last week two attorneys representing fans went to court to try and have their tickets honored at the Pine Tar Game -- the Yankees had said that only season ticket holders could get in free. The Yankees and their attorney, Roy Cohn , joined forces with the fans and sought to postpone Thursday's game. In the meantime, the Yankee players kept putting off a vote on whether to play the game or go to Gossage's house for a combination forfeit and pool party.

This left the Royals quite literally up in the air. Their TWA Charter No. 8732 left Kansas City Thursday at 11:00 a.m. Central Time, bound for either New York or Baltimore, where they were to play the next day. That morning Justice Orest V. Maresca of the State Supreme Court in the Bronx granted an injunction preventing the game. One of the Yankees' arguments was that their security force, which would be at one-quarter strength, would be ill-equipped to handle the throngs. The American League, which had to borrow National League lawyers, went to the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court, and at 3:35 Justice Joseph P. Sullivan said, "As far as the stay, I guess I can state it best in two words: Play Ball."

In the meantime, the pilot of the Royals' charter had decided -- somewhere over Ashtabula, Ohio -- to head for Newark Airport. The plane landed at 2:44 and the Royals waited for a word of decision. "I had to go to the bathroom," said Quisenberry. At about 3:30, the Royals, including their new part-owner, Avron Fogelman , boarded a bus to the Stadium, even though they didn't know the status of the game. Said General Manager John Schuerholz , "The ride was hot and slow, and I kidded Howser that maybe the bus was being sabotaged. Standing by the road with our thumbs out would have been the right way to get to this game."

Brett, who couldn't play, drove off in a TWA van with Larry Ameche , the airline rep in charge of the Royals' charters and, yes, Don Ameche's son. They went to the Spanish Tavern in Newark.

The Royals didn't receive the news of Justice Sullivan's order until they walked into the visitor's clubhouse at 4:15. Fogelman, who now owns 49% of the club was asked what he thought of George Steinbrenner, and he promptly said, "I love George Steinbrenner. George Steinbrenner is George Steinbrenner."

While the press was devoting its attention to Quisenberry, the "starting" pitcher, a little espionage was going on under their noses. The Pine Tar Bat, wrapped in sanitary hose and placed in a garbage bag, was being slipped by pitcher Bud Black to Barry Halper , a limited partner of the Yankees and a renowned collector -- he already had the ball Brett hit. Brett had just decided that he wanted no more to do with the bat, so he might as well give it a good home.

At about 5:15 Schuerholz scanned the seats for potential thugs. "These people don't look very vicious to me -- wait, there's one," he said, pointing to a cherubic child of eight.

The crowd was announced at 1,245, which was probably closer to the size of the media contingent than to the actual number of fans. The game was telecast in both Kansas City and New York.

The last hurdle was surmounted when some threatening clouds (Steinbrenner's hole card) passed over the Stadium. At 6:04, with pitcher Ron Guidry in centerfield and lefthanded outfielder Don Mattingly at second base -- in apparent protest, although coach Don Zimmer really was short-handed -- the Yankees took the field.

As the game resumed, George Frazier , the Yankee pitcher, threw to first base on an appeal play; the Yankees were claiming that Brett had failed to touch first on his home-run trot 25 days earlier. Umpire Tim Welke signaled safe. Frazier threw to second on another appeal, and umpire Dave Phillips signaled safe, at which point Yankee manager Billy Martin strode out of the dugout to argue. How could Phillips know if Brett had touched first and second if he was working in Seattle on that long-ago day?

Phillips then produced a notarized letter from the original umpiring crew saying that both Brett and U.L. Washington, who was on base at the time of the homer, had touched all the sacks. It was a stroke of genius on the part of the American League. "Whoever thought of that should be the next commissioner," said Quisenberry.

Actually, MacPhail and his assistant, Bob Fishel , thought it up after having lunch with some Yankee officials a few weeks ago. Fishel had suggested that the Yankees promote the suspended game in a big way -- little pine tar bats and such -- but the Yankees reacted in such negative fashion that Fishel and MacPhail realized that the Yankees had not yet begun to fight. So they anticipated the appeal and subsequently requested that umpire Joe Brinkman's crew notarize a letter.

Martin didn't let the letter stop him, though. He announced he was playing the game under protest, and when the protest was announced at the Stadium, the fans cheered.

The game proceeded apace, starting at 6:08. Frazier struck out Hal McRae , who had been in the on-deck circle for 25 days. Quisenberry came on. One of the Yankee complaints was that it wouldn't be fair for him to pitch since he had pitched over five innings two days before the original game, but when Brett hit his homer that day, Quisenberry was up and throwing in the bullpen.

The first Yankee batter was Mattingly, who had a major league-leading 25 game hitting streak on the line. But he flew out to center. Smalley flew out to deep left. Gamble, batting for a disappointed Guidry, grounded out to second, and the game was over. It had taken all of 12 minutes.

Quisenberry said he was surprised he didn't give up his usual hits. Coach Joe Nossek , managing in Howser's absence, allowed as how he'd like to manage every game if it was one inning with a one-run lead and if he had Quisenberry on the mound.

A team has 24 hours after a game to file a written protest. Shortly before 6 p.m. on Friday, the Yankees telexed the league office to officially protest the Pine Tar Game. They contend that the original first-base umpire, Drew Coble , had no business signing the letter because he was watching the flight of the ball and was in no position to see if Brett had touched first base.

You didn't really think the game was over, did you?

Issue date: August 29, 1983

 
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