In collaboration with the Sportsecyclopedia.com
Kansas City Royals All-Star George Brett Launches into a tantrum for the ages, after the home run he hit in the ninth inning off Goose Gossage is disallowed for using too much pine tar in his bat. Instead of giving the Royals a 5-4 lead, Brett makes the last out as the New York Yankees win 4-3. The Royals would successfully appeal the ruling and win 25 days later 5-4.
The hottest rivalry in baseball at the end of the 1970’s was the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals as they met in the American League Championship Series four times in a five year stretch, with the Yankees winning classic series in 1976, 1977, and 1978, while the Royals swept the Yankees in 1980. The bad blood still was simmering in 1983 as they met for a Sunday Afternoon game at Yankee Stadium.
The Yankees with Billy Martin in this third tenure as manager were in the thick of a tight race in the American League East. Meanwhile, the Royals managed by Dick Howser, who had been the Yankees manager in 1980 were scuffling as they dealt with the cloud of drugs, after four players, Willie Wilson, Vida Blue, Jerry Martin and Willie Aikens were arrested for attempting to buy cocaine.
The Yankees held a record of 52-40 entering the game with Shane Rawley on the mound, while the Royals were stuck at 44-45 with Bud Black getting the start. The Royals scored first, as they scratched out a run in the second inning on a grounder by Frank White. The Yankees answered with a home run by Dave Winfield in the bottom of the inning. In the fourth inning, Frank White got a second RBI scoring John Wathan again with an RBI single. Kansas City made it 3-1 on back-to-back triples by White and Don Slaught in the sixth inning. The Yankees rallied to tie the game in the sixth, as Bert Campaneris and Lou Piniella scored on a triple off the bat of Don Baylor. Winfield followed with a single to drive home Baylor with the go-ahead run. Dale Murray who relieved Rawley in the sixth had kept the Royals at bay, allowing just one hit as he started the ninth, with the Yankees in front 4-3. The first two batters Don Slaught and Pat Sheridan went down quickly, but after a single by U.L. Washington, Billy Martin called upon closer Goose Gossage to get the last out.
Goose Gossage was one of the game’s best relievers who had a checkered history against George Brett, including the clinching home run in the 1980 ALCS. Brett, quickly greeted Gossage with a long home run to right field, giving the Royals a 5-4 lead. However, as Brett circled the bases, Yankees manager Billy Martin, catcher Rick Cerone and third baseman Craig Nettles approached home plate umpire Tim McClelland to challenge the amount of pine tar Brett was using. Pine tar a sticky substance used by batters to help them grip the bat. A rule was put in place 40 years earlier, limiting the amount of pine tar that could be used to 18 inches on the bat. The rule was not done because pine tar gave hitters an advantage rather it was created to prevent overuse of pine tar by frugal owners. After a conference, McClelland used home plate to measure the bat, as Brett watched in the dugout. After the measurement, the umpire pointed to the Royals dugout and made an out call as the Yankees celebrated a 4-3 win. Meanwhile, George Brett charged out of the Royals dugout and had to be restrained. The Royals star was beside himself, meanwhile, Gaylord Perry tried to sneak the bat off the field as Brett, manager Dick Howser and coach Rocky Colavito were ejected.
The Royals played the game under protest and appealed to the American League. The decision of Tim McClelland was ultimately reversed by President Lee MacPhail. Yankees Owner George Steinbrenner proclaimed that MacPhail had a grudge against the Yankees, after being fired as General Manager a decade earlier when Steinbrenner took over the team. With the ruling, the game was to resume, with the Royals leading 5-4 with two outs in the ninth on August 18th. In the interim, the Yankees explored every legal argument to prevent that game from being completed. The Yankees even hired Roy Cohen, the attorney who severed as Senator Joe McCarthy’s right-hand man in the hunt for communists in the 1950’s and defended Studio 54 in the 1970’s. The Yankees used a variety of arguments, even claiming that they could not guarantee fan safety in the resumed game.
When August 18th arrived, the Royals landing in Newark did not know if the game would even be played, as a judge granted the Yankees’ request for an injunction. However, the injunction granted by Judge in Bronx Superior court was quickly reversed on appeal, allowing the game to be played. A small crowd of 1,200 was in attendance when the ninth inning resumed. Yankees manager Billy Martin was not out of tricks, as he tried to claim that George Brett missed a bag while circling the basis. A different umpiring crew was on hand and were prepared for Martin’s shenanigans as they had an affidavit from the original crew stating all bases were touched. The Yankees made some roster changes in the 25 days since the game was played, Jerry Mumphrey was traded to the Houston Astros, leading Martin to place pitcher Ron Guidry in center field, while Bert Campaneris was on the disabled list, leaving Martin to put Don Mattingly at second base. To date, it marks the last time a left-hander played second base.
With no more battles to fight, Billy Martin pulled a quiet protest, refusing to sit in the dugout for the end of the game, as he sat back in the clubhouse watching reruns of Barney Miller. George Frazier meanwhile came on to pitch and struck out Hal McRae. The Royals called upon closer Dan Quisenberry to finish the game, Don Mattingly and Roy Smalley Jr. made the first two outs with fly balls. Oscar Gamble was the Yankees last hope, pinch-hitting for Guidry. He would do no better grounding to second to end the game, with the Royals winning 5-4 as it took under ten minutes to complete the game.
The game proved to be a turning point for the Yankees, as they struggled the rest of the season, finishing third in the East with a record of 91-71, which led to Billy Martin being dismissed at the end of the season. The Royals meanwhile finished a distant second in the Western Division with a record of 79-83.