Saturday, July 14, 2007

On George Brett

In the case of Central Manufacturing, Inc. v. Brett, the Seventh Circuit's opinion begins:

The Pine Tar Incident

It’s undisputed: George Brett was a great baseball player. The statistics from his 21 years in The Show, all with the Kansas City Royals, seal the deal: 3,154 hits, 317 home runs, and a career batting average of .305. Only three other players—Stan Musial, Hank Aaron, and Willie Mays—ended their careers with more than 3,000 hits and 300 home runs, while still maintaining a lifetime batting average over .300. Brett’s selection to the Hall of Fame, on the first ballot in 1999, was richly deserved. Yet for all his accomplishments, many who love baseball will always think of the “Pine Tar Incident” as the capstone of his career. It is a joy to recall.

It was July 24, 1983, and the Royals, trailing 4-3 to the New York Yankees, had a man on first but were down to their final out in the top half of the ninth inning. Brett was at the plate. The Yankees’ ace closer, “Goose” Gossage, was on the mound. And Brett crushed an 0-1 fastball over the 353-foot mark into the right field seats, giving Kansas City the lead, 5-4. Pandemonium broke out in the Royals’ dugout. The Yankee Stadium crowd fell silent. But things were about to change.

While the Royals were celebrating, the Yankees’ fiery manager, Billy Martin, walked calmly (unusual for him) to home plate where he engaged the umpire, Tim McClelland, in quiet conversation. Martin pointed to an obscure rule (and we sometimes think the Federal Rules of Appellate Procedure are obscure!), which provides that any substance (including pine tar) that a player might rub on his bat handle for a better grip cannot extend more than 18 inches. See Major League Baseball Official Rules § 1.10(b). Martin, pointing to a lot of pine tar on the bat Brett left behind as he circled the bases, asked McClelland to check it out. McClelland, using home plate as a ruler, determined that pine tar covered 24 inches of the bat handle. So the bat, McClelland ruled, was illegal.

With his ruling ready for delivery, McClelland took a few steps toward the jubilant Royals’ dugout and gave the signal: for using an illegal bat, the home run was nullified, and Brett was out. Game over. Yankees win 4-3. And all hell broke loose. An infuriated George Brett charged out of the dugout and rushed McClelland as Martin, who looked like the cat who ate the canary, stood off to the side. It was one of the great all-time rhubarbs in baseball history. And that’s how it ended, at least for July 24, 1983.

But baseball, like our legal system, has appellate review. The Royals protested the game and, as luck would have it, American League President Lee MacPhail (to use a phrase with which we are accustomed) “reversed and remanded for further proceedings.” The game resumed three weeks later with Kansas City ahead, 5-4. It ended after 12 minutes when Royals’ closer Dan Quisenberry shut the door on the Yankees in their half of the ninth to seal the win. The whole colorful episode is preserved, in all its glory, on YouTube, at (last visited June 6, 2007). See also Retrosheet Boxscore, Kansas City Royals 5, New York Yankees 4, at (last visited June 6, 2007).

1 comment:

Mitch Mobley said...

I have Brett's rookie card. I wonder if it's worth anything.