Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Pine Tar Game Redux

Nobody ever celebrates the anniversary of Robin Ventura charging the mound against Nolan Ryan, only to have the Ryan Express head lock Ventura and repeatedly punch him on the noggin. I can't even tell you the year it was when future Cub Randall Simon tapped that Brewers mascot with a bat, only to have said mascot fall to the ground as if he was struck by an assassin's bullet. We'd like to think it's because neither of those moments featured a batshit crazy future Hall of Famer with murder in his eyes exploding on a home plate umpire. There are a number of reasons that every year on this day, a seemingly meaningless game between two teams who weren't going to impact any sort of pennant race is celebrated and remembered as one of the lasting images in Major League Baseball History. Oh, and July 24th is also this guy's birthday, although he was old enough in 1983 to have remembered the fireworks at Yankee Stadium.

July 24th is the day when all the sports-talk radio stations go out of their way to secure George Brett and Rich "Goose" Gossage as guests, and try to be clever by bringing in Umpire Tim McClelland in the middle of the interview, as his presence is somehow going to inspire Brett to go all Hulk on him again. It does cause the Kansas City Star to run a great piece on the game, a rare great article that's not written by someone with the last name Posnanski or Whitlock. But as Brett himself says (every year I might add), "It was just some game in late July." Oh but it had quite an ending, thanks to this cast of characters:
  • George Brett: Thorn in Yankee's ass for many years; clutch performer who almost stole the pennant from Yanks from 1976-78, and actually did so in 1980; seemingly the last person in the world you'd expect to draw the wrath of washed-up slugger George Scott who, during his brief 44 games with the Royals in the last year of his career, couldn't comprehend why a future Hall-of-Famer was wearing number 5 instead of him; ironically, got along well with the late George C. Scott and rather enjoyed his movies; caused many sleepless nights for Royals Groundskeeper George Toma for spitting tobacco all over the then astro-turf of the then Royals Stadium; actually used the Pine-Tar bat during games a few weeks after the July 23rd game; one of the few, brave people in the world who at one pont in time went on the record in declaring Rush Limbaugh a "friend" (although he did use his fingers to make quotation marks when referencing him as a "friend").
  • Richard "Goose" Gossage: Gave up pennant-deciding Home Run to Brett at Yankee Stadium in 1980; used to get teased ruthlessly by teammates Mickey Rivers and Thurman Munson whenever he'd come in to close a game during the remarkable 1978 season about how he'd find a way to blow the lead; is flat out confused as to why closers today only pitch one-inning; first assignment from Manager Billy Martin upon joining the Yankees was to throw at a batter's head in a spring training game; probably doesn't exchange holiday cards with former teammate Cliff Johnson, who he got into a fight with during the 1979 season, costing him playing time.
  • Billy Martin: Wild, ornery bastard who really bares little resemblance to actor John Turturo, who portrayed him in an ESPN mini-series last year; even though he died on Christmas Day, 1989, is still legally drunk; assumed every big league manager went out to a local dive after a tough loss and called the team's owner convicted and star player a liar; started "Billy Ball" while managing Oakland, a concept that was designed to do nothing else but kill the arms of the entire A's pitching staff; lost a lot of money in the afterlife on how long it would take long time buddy Mickey Mantle to join him among the departed (Billy had two years tops, but in his defense, nobody thought it would take the Mick nearly 6 years after Martin died to finally join him).
  • Graig Nettles: Perhaps the most over-rated Yankee player ever, who gets a little too much credit for making dramatic dives on catches in the 1978 World Series; can't understand why everyone else in the world named "Greg" doesn't use an "ai" when spelling their first name; was always a bit of a prick towards Brett; knows a thing or two about cheating, as he was caught using a bat that was loaded with six superballs inside of it during the 1974 season; threw virtually all of his teammates and George Steinbrenner under the bus in his memoirs, then was promptly traded to San Diego where he was forced to wear those McDonald's brown and mustard uniforms with Gossage; claimed to spend his childhood dreaming of either being in the circus or playing baseball.
  • Tim McClelland: Widely regarded as one of the best "balls & strikes" umpires in the game, yet somehow fell for all of Martin's voodoo charms on July 24, 1983 (which is all the more remarkable given Martin's almost daily ability to start fights with umpires); surreally was the homeplate umpire for Sammy Sosa's corked bat game too; scares nightmares into current Royals pitcher Zack Greinke because he's "so tall"; spent many moments over the past 25 years wondering how he -- being 6-6, 250, wearing a chest protector and holding a baseball bat -- could see his life flash before his eyes when a bug-eyed Brett charged from the dugout.
  • Hal McRae: Has more pent-up anger than should be allowed, justified when considering Paul Molitor and Edgar Martinez get all the credit in the world for being the best designated hitters ever when Hal was really the first really great one; has a son, Brian, who, when being thrown at during a game against the Texas Rangers in 1993 opted to charge the entire Ranger dugout instead of the pitcher; had his own moment of complete anger while managing the Royals, pulling a phone out of the wall and throwing towards Royals beat writers following a loss to Detroit; even with great moments of rage, was tossed from a game (at Yankee Stadium no less) in early 1993 and did nothing but silently walk back to the dugout; stood calmly on the on-deck circle while Brett rounded the bases after his homer in the Pine Tar Game, only to wait for his moment to steal Brett's bat during the melee that followed; is extremely irate that Jose Guillen now wears his #11 for Kansas City.
  • Gaylord Perry: Gets more excited in admitting that he threw a spitball than somebody with the name Gaylord really should; was so enamored with his use of the spitball that he himself approached the creators of Vaseline, begging them to hire him as an endorser; used to attend old-timers games wearing a jersey with the logo of all eight teams he pitched for; seemed to be pitching in 1983 if for no other reason than to see a moment like a raged George Brett barrel out of the Yankee Stadium dugout, so he could then play hot potato with McRae and the pine tar bat in question; doesn't like it when you confuse him with "Jim" Perry, a starting pitcher from the same era.

And Brett has his legendary you tube moment, the game has it's own wikipedia page, and every year this gives the sports world something to talk about on July 24th. We can also be thankful that this moment happened in a pre-Sportscenter world (or at least the way Sportscenter is now). The media would have called for Brett's head, likened him to Ron Artest for his violent outburst, and branded him a cheater, despite the fact that then American League President Lee MacPhail would over-rule Martin and McClelland and credit Brett with a home run and oh by the way, get back to Yankee Stadium and finish this little game.

The only downside of this moment is that it overshadows the real Brett/Gossage confrontation, one that occurred three years earlier in Game 3 of the American League Championship series. Same result -- Brett with a bomb to right field -- but this time, the game actually meant something. It decided the first pennant for the Royals.

2 comments:

TravisRoastBeef said...

Anyone know what day the anniversary of T. Svendgard deleting the entire San Francisco Giants team from Ratt's Baseball Stars game after defeat? Happy Birthday Tree.

Greg Pryor said...

I am the player who replaced George Brett in the resumption of the Pine Tar game at Yankee Stadium. In addition, I was the SS in the first (and only) game of the "Disco Demolition" doubleheader in Comiskey Park. Get your buddies on this trivia question, "Who is the only player to play in the PTG and DD" Hey, can anyone tell me who wrote the Redux blog? Email me at greg@sportsaholic.org