Book Review: The Pine Tar Game by Filip Bondy

“The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from its end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip.  Any such material, including pine tar, which extends past the 18-inch limitation, in the umpire’s judgment, shall cause the bat to be removed from the game. No such material shall improve the reaction or distance factor of the bat.”

Rule 1.10 (c), Official Rules of Major League Baseball

The early 1980s was a simpler time.

Disco was dissipating, a new wave was beginning, Bill Cosby overtook the airwaves for a different reason and there was only one Batman.

Pine Tar Game Book CoverBaseball was simpler too.  Baseball cards were still worth something, nobody knew what PED stood for and hitting forty home runs in a season was a rare accomplishment worth celebrating.

There was no social media and the only skeptical sports coverage was what you read in the following morning’s newspaper.  But that didn’t stop one incident, one home run turned into an out, from turning one of the game’s most respected players into a raving lunatic and giving us a moment that lives on in infamy.

That one incident, The Pine Tar Game, is the subject of Filip Bondy’s latest creation.

But this work is not just about a bat and a decision.  Bondy takes us back to the late 70s and early 80s by setting the tone for that game and what it meant for baseball history.

“The story begins, as all the best ones do, with a bat and a ball,” back when the Yankees payroll was only $13 million, half of what A-Rod makes now.

The rivalry between the Yankees and the Royals is now forgotten but back then it was a heated David and Goliath battle between what Bondy calls “two polar opposite franchises.  The smaller-market teams were just freckle-faced kids with no real weaponry… but the upstart Royals were at the time a very real threat to the haughty supremacy of the pinstriped empire.”

Brett Pine TarBondy’s book effectively chronicles the competitive buildup between the two clubhouses and a moment in baseball’s history that has stood the test of time.  George Brett is accurately portrayed as an all-time great, a likeable guy, just one with a short fuse, “a seething bull in a china shop.”  Watching him soar out of the dugout is one of baseball’s unforgettable images, something that we’d probably view entirely differently if it happened in this day and age.

Bondy tells of stories forgotten: Billy Martin bashing urinals, the Willie Wilson cocaine scandal and Brett’s strained relationship with his father.  He recalls the superstar lineups: Craig Nettles, Reggie Jackson, Thurman Munson, Willie Randolph, Chris Chambliss, George Brett, Hal McRae and the years of rivalry that led to this moment.  Even Rush Limbaugh, who worked for the Kansas City Royals at the time, makes a surprisingly un-opinionated appearance.

Never was a game between two fourth place teams as memorable as the one played on July 24, 1983.  Thanks to Bondy, we get some good insider trading on how it all went down.  “George Brett knew about the pine tar, and he had a fairly good notion about the rule, so there may have been some cold-blooded calculation involved in the unlawful use of this bat, even if the crime was ultimately petty.”

In the ninth inning of a mid-summer ballgame between two teams all but out of contention, one of the game’s most famous home runs was hit, pitched by one Hall of Famer and slugged by another.  That’s when Billy Martin left the Yankees dugout to protest.  “From then on, everything was different.  All sanity left the building.”

Bondy details the back-and-forth after the home run, after it was disallowed and after Brett “charged home plate like a one-man herd of elephants.”  He highlights not only Billy Martin’s role in getting the home run overturned but everyone else that played a role in getting the call reversed and the aftermath that ensued.

Even though everything went down in accordance with the rules, after reading “The Pine Tar Game,” one can’t help but think what a mess we’d make of it if it happened today.  With the dust still settling from the DeflateGate scandal, would Brett and the Royals, like Brady and the Patriots, be able to shake the cheater moniker if they went into a game knowing the equipment he was using was in violation of the rules?

It’s good food for thought.  As is the book.

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13 Replies to “Book Review: The Pine Tar Game by Filip Bondy”

  1. Great post. Sounds like an interesting read. Loved your set up. Nicely done SC.

  2. Pine Sol , Pine Tar ? Is there really a difference ? If the MLB hierarchy had their so-called rules in place then how is it they erred so badly when it came to the ‘roids’ issue ?

    Are the Astros and Rangers , now the teams to beat in the AL ?
    These wildcard series look pretty interesting at the moment.

  3. Think about it, Al.

    What if the Pine Tar incident happened today?

    What if Brett knew about the rule and proceeded to play anyway?

    Sounds a lot like Deflategate to me, no?

  4. If this happened today I believe it would be a very big deal indeed. Hell, I think a lot of people still remember Brett for that…first thing that comes to their minds when his name is mentioned. Sounds like a good book. I wonder how George feels about it.

  5. Burnsy…

    One thing he mentioned in the book was that prior to that game, he was always known as the hemorrhoids guy until the Pine Tar Game so needless to say, he was okay with being known for that instead.

  6. The MLB hierarchy have always been the entity you can simply count on to fu#k things up . That being said , Roger Goodell continues to prove how incompetent he remains.

    The Dodgers have become hamstrung when it comes to the postseason in recent years. Terry Collins’ Mets are making the LA based franchise seem like a bunch of effeminate boys .

    If Mattingly and the Dodgers implode in this divisional series, then all bets are off concerning the managerial staff being asked to return next season. No way in hell , Andrew Friedman (Head of Baseball Operations) will continue to tolerate that type of incompetence from Don Mattingly’s staff and the players.

  7. So let me ask you this, Al. Have we seen anything on the ratings for the baseball playoffs yet?

    MLB no longer has an excuse.

    They’ve got the major markets all in there in the National League: Chicago, St Louis, New York and L.A.

    If this post-season can’t pull viewers, Manfred is going to have to go back to the drawing board and pretty much erase everything Selig did to fuck up the game.

  8. Ain’t got a dog in the hunt but Cubs have a chance after last night & how will Utley taking out Tejada change the tone of Dodgers / Mets? I see a plunking coming for Mr. Utley – he might want to wear armor for next game.

  9. I’ll be honest with ya’, Moose.

    Between work, hockey season starting and college football and NFL in full effect, I’ve barely paid attention to the MLB playoffs.

    I will when it gets closer down to the wire.

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