Delving into the hypothetical: George Brett, pine tar and a road trip to the 21st century

KC playoffsSo the Kansas City Royals have clinched a playoff spot for the first time since 1985.  That’s quite the post-season drought.  Heck, even the Cubs, Mets and Indians have experienced October since then.

This might be news to those of you under 30 but back in the day, the Royals were pretty darned good.  They made the playoffs seven times in ten years between 1976 and 1985 when they finally won their first and only World Series.

George Brett was an integral part of those Kansas City teams.  He is unquestionably the greatest Royal ever.  He finished his 21-year career, all with the Royals, with 3154 hits.  He led the league in hits and batting average three different times.  He won the 1980 AL MVP and finished in the top three in voting three other times.  He is a career .305 hitter and a first ballot Hall of Famer.

But it is neither Brett’s longevity nor his consistency for which he is most commonly known.  There was this little thing known as the pine tar incident.  Perhaps you’ve heard of it.

George BrettOn what was supposed to be an ordinary July afternoon, the Royals were playing against the New York Yankees in the House that Ruth Built.  Brett’s Royals were trailing by a run in the top of the ninth inning when Brett stepped to the plate.  He took a Goose Gossage offering over the right field wall giving the Royals the lead.

Or so it seemed.

Then Yankees manager, the late Billy Martin, protested the home run, pointing out to umpires that Brett had used an illegal amount of pine tar on his bat.  After carefully measuring the bat for the allowable use of pine tar, home plate umpire Tim McLellan notified Brett, who was already in the dugout, that he was being called out.  The home run was disallowed.

That’s when all hell broke loose.  If you’ve never seen this video before then you shouldn’t really consider yourself a sports fan.

Brett burst out of the dugout as if his hair was on fire, most likely unloading every profanity in the book.  Brett was already an established All-Star.   To consider him a cheat was most certainly out of character but Martin and the Yankees had a plan and it worked.  With Brett called out, the game was over.  Yankees victorious, Brett incensed and needing to be restrained.

Ultimately the Royals protested the game and the home run was restored but that didn’t change the fact that Brett gave us one of the more memorable moments in baseball history.

George Brett leaves dugoutNow, let’s hop into our time machine and delve into the hypothetical.

Let’s say that happened today.

With everything going on in sports these days, players regularly flirting with incarceration, losing their tempers on and off the field, what would happen if we saw a guy as angry as Brett charge an umpire the way he did some thirty years ago?  We see baseball players take their bats to dugout equipment breaking everything in sight and label them hostile and unstable.  We are all too aware of how the NFL has struggled with its players acting like they’re not a part of civilized society.  And forget about the NBA.  In an effort to cure their image, if a fight breaks out in a game and a player so much as leaves the bench to participate or even break it up, he’s fined and suspended.

My, how times have changed.

Brett got a pass for the incident.  After all, he was right.  The umpires had just robbed him of a heroic moment.  He’d be damned is some rookie umpire was going to deny his team a victory.

ShermanBut I just can’t help but wonder if we saw somebody charge an umpire like that in this day and age, how the repercussions would be far worse than they were in 1985, both for the player’s pocketbook and for his image.  Brett was ejected for his outburst, even though the game was technically over anyway.  That was the extent of his punishment.  There was no suspension, no fine and no tarnished image.  Do that today and run the risk of far worse.  Heck, the excitable Richard Sherman opened his mouth in a post-game interview last year and he sent all of America into an uproar.  Imagine someone these days charging the field in a threatening manner with the determination of home run-robbed George Brett.  He’d be vilified.  Sports outlets would paint the portrait of a man gone mad and yes, while Brett did go mad at that moment, we don’t judge him for that as we now do others.  If nothing else, we laugh about it.

So what has changed about us in the last thirty years?  Is it our tolerance level or our lack thereof?  Have we heightened or lowered our expectations about how athletes should act?  And what about the passion?  Brett stormed out of the dugout willing to fight for what he believed in.  I’m not so sure an athlete doing that same thing today would be perceived in the same light.

The pine tar incident remains one of the more memorable moments of that generation.  It showed what’s capable when a player plays with passion.  With all that’s going on in sports these days, let’s hope we don’t misconstrue the next player to do that into something it’s not and that we’re able to determine the difference.

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12 Replies to “Delving into the hypothetical: George Brett, pine tar and a road trip to the 21st century”

  1. So interesting! I’d forgotten that. Good think piece, then & now … and what the future might hold. Really good post SC.

  2. Pine tar , pine sol , it’s meant to have us in awe . Create some controversy , because that’s all that now seems to be happening in the world of sports . The hierarchies then are as incompetent as they are now and not really much has changed .

    Lefty and Tom Watson won’t be breaking bread anytime soon . The US Ryder Cup team was overrated and nowhere good enough to even trouble their European rivals in this year’s Ryder Cup competition . Even with the inclusion of Tiger Woods , Rory McIlroy and his teammates would have brushed aside the US’s challenge with ease .

    The playoffs in terms of the wildcard round should prove to be interesting . Who do you believe will be the favorite in the match-up between the Oakland A’s and Kansas City Royals ? Had your fill of the Jeter goodbye’s afforded him throughout this season ?

    Great win for the Bucs ! How how lousy are the Eagles and Redskins ?

  3. I was around for the Brett Pine Tar incident and it remains an image hard to forget. A truly shocking moment seeing a guy considered a “all-American” type being nabbed for trying to get too much of an edge. It was a wild scene. I would hope all athletes would have as much passion today in competing but regardless very few could compete with Brett’s intensity. He played hard and took his craft seriously. If a similar situation did occur where a call went against a star and they went bonkers like that I know Sportscenter would add the footage to their oft-played biggest meltdowns and that person would then forever be recalled by that, not so much by their playing career.

  4. Chris, I recall seeing that incident in real time. What I recall is the ump pointing toward the dugout, lifting his arm and giving the out sign.

    Everyone knew he was going to do it. It had taken a few minutes before that for Martin to retrieve the bat and ask McClelland to check the pine tar by measuring the bat against the length of home plate.

    That had given Brett time to get fired up and come roaring out of the dugout. Instances like that questioning an umpire’s decision, with attendant histrionics, were commonplace then. YouTube Durocher or Lou Pinella or Martin himself over and over berating umpires.

    As to what the outcome would be of doing that now, I would suggest very little would come of it save endless replays on Sports Center.

    Fans are inured to players’ antics during play, basketball being the one exception because the fans are but a row away with no restraining wall to separate players and fans.

    We have had numerous rulings overturned on review with little disturbance by players or spectators. Technology was absent when Brett exploded, even though in real time he had seen the result of the measurement at home plate.

    At the time, I remember thinking what Brett really wanted was a piece of Martin, who was hiding in his own dugout, probably grinning.

    Opponents hated Martin.

    Brett had no intent on injuring the ump, who I recall acted very professionally.

    Has it really been thirty years?

  5. Al…

    Think of how much worse it would have been had Tiger played.

    What a great AL wild card game. I was glued to the TV as much as I could be considering I was working. If this post-season is as good as the opening game, we could be in for a doozy.

    And I don’t think the Eagles are lousy. But I do think the Cowboys have a pretty fair chance of winning that division.

  6. It has been that long, Coach. We ain’t getting any younger.

    In researching the piece, I read that Martin had planned the protest just in case all along.

    Conniving little bastard he was but boy, could he manage.

  7. I agree with both Burnsy and Jim.

    ESPN would load up on the replay of this sorta thing were it to happen again.

    Just as they did the Sherman interview.

    So, Burnsy.

    Can I count on you to pick against me and KP one of these NFL Sundays?

  8. Why would Gruden do that, Al?

    He’s been there, done that.

    And this Raiders team is far, far away from being competitive.

    Heck, they might not even be playing in Oakland for that much longer.

  9. Unbelievable comeback by the Royals . Man , did the Pirates implode or what ? 8-0 ? Tiger’s game like his 9 iron and his manhood have began to droop . McIlroy is now by far the best player on the PGA Tour and you don’t need the rankings to tell you that at all .

    The Bucs got off the schneid against a very poor Steelers team . This weekend against the Saints it will be a game between two evenly matched teams , with the exception of Brees . But then again , the Saints’ quarterback has had his setbacks this season .

    Check out the latest odes via Facebook (Tophatal’s Blog) the usual source and let me know what you think ?


  10. That was the best baseball game I’d seen in years, Al. That’s exactly what baseball needed too to get fans ready for the playoffs.

    The Bucs got off the schneid but that won’t last long. They’ll get punked this week in New Orleans. Just you watch.

    I’m behind on my emails but I’ll be over there shortly.

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