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. 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 scheduled 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 word of a 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 visitors' 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.