The Yankees have had some pretty funky moments in their history, but perhaps none is more bizarre than the "Pine Tar Game." MLB.com has covered the incident quite thoroughly in the past, so I don't feel the need to go into too much detail since the story has been told ad nauseum. Here's the CliffNotes version of it though, just for a refresher on the 29th anniversary of the incident.
The New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals had an extremely heated rivalry during the ten-year period of 1976-85 that I covered two months ago. They played against each other in the ALCS in '76, '77, '78, and '80, with the Yankees taking the first three series and Royals sweeping the final matchup. With a few breaks, they could have met in both the '81 and '85 playoffs as well, but it was not meant to be, as the Royals lost their division series in '81 to the Oakland Athletics and the Yankees finished a couple games back of the AL East division title in '85. As both teams faded from AL relevance in the late '80s and early '90s, the rivalry died down, and the Royals have still not made the playoffs since '85. In '83 however, both teams were in the playoff hunt when they met on July 24th. The Yankees were in fourth place in the AL East behind the Toronto Blue Jays, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Detroit Tigers, but they were only two games back of the division lead. Likewise, the Royals were in third place in the AL West behind the Chicago White Sox and Texas Rangers, but they only trailed the leaders by two games. The Yankees were clearly the better team though, as they sat twelve games over .500 while the Royals were a game under and had a -45 run differential. Both teams were about to find out though that in baseball, the extremely unpredictable could become reality.
Current Padres manager Bud Black took the hill for the Royals that day, and despite giving up a solo homer to future Hall of Famer Dave Winfield, he carried a 3-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth inning. The Royals barraged Yankees starter Shane Rawley with ten hits and three walks in his 5.1 innings of work, but it was unfortunate for them that they managed to plate just three runs against the Yankees. They ran into some outs on the bases and stranded several runners in scoring position. Back-to-back one-out triples by second baseman Frank White (whose number 20 was later retired by the Royals for 18 seasons of work) and catcher Don Slaught knocked Rawley out of the game in the sixth, but they stranded Slaught at third against reliever Dale Murray.
The Yankees had managed only a run on three hits against Black through five innings, but they broke through with a rally in the bottom of the sixth. Veteran utilityman Bert Campaneris beat out a single to the shortstop position to lead off the inning, then advanced to third on former Royal Rookie of the Year Lou Piniella's single to center. Hefty DH Don Baylor lifted a long fly into deep center that fell for a two-run triple as the Yankees tied the game. Winfield followed with a single to left, scoring Baylor to give the Yankees the lead despite being thrown out at second trying to stretch it to a double. Black got left fielder Steve Kemp on a fly ball to center to end the inning, but the damage was done. Murray and Royals reliever Mike Armstrong kept the score at 4-3 into the ninth inning.
Murray got two quick outs on a grounder to short and a popup to first base, and the Royals were an out away from defeat. By then, he had pitched 3.1 shutout innings of one-hit ball and showed no signs of slowing. Infielder U.L. Washington stepped to the plate and singled to center to put the tying run on base. Perhaps more importantly though, future Hall of Famer George Brett stepped to the plate as the go-ahead run. Yankees manager Billy Martin went to the bullpen and brought in his own future Hall of Famer, closer Goose Gossage. Brett always seemed to hit Goose very well; in his career, he hit ..289/.364/.579 with three homers in 44 plate appearances against the flamethrower, not counting his dramatic three-run homer in Game 3 of the '80 ALCS. Sure enough, Brett took Gossage out to right field for a two-run homer, apparently giving the Royals a 5-4 lead.
However, Martin came out of the dugout to talk to the umpires. Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles had often noticed Brett would put a lot of pine tar on his bat to get a better grip, and Nettles knew that there were regulations to how much could be used. Several years ago, Yankees catcher Thurman Munson had a hit ruled an out for violating this rule. Nettles tipped both Yankee coach Don Zimmer and Martin about Brett's pine tar usage, and Zim advised Billy to ask the umpires about it. Using home plate as a measuring tool, they ruled that Brett used too much pine tar, and he was ruled out. Brett flew from the dugout with rage perhaps never before witnessed on a baseball field and had to be restrained from attacking the umpires. Because Brett was ruled out, the game was over and the Yankees won 4-3.
The Royals appealed the game though, and American League president Lee MacPhail ruled that the umpires did not act "in the spirit of the rule," whatever that means. Therefore, the home run counted and the game had to be resumed at a later date. Martin and the Yankees were disgusted by this ruling and did everything they could to get the homer reversed, even throwing to each base in the game's resumption on August 18th, arguing that Brett did not touch all the bases. Immediately after the game on the 24th though, the umpires had signed off that he had done so, and the Yankees were out of luck. They played the game in contempt, putting rookie Don Mattingly at second base for his only career game there, and pitcher Ron Guidry in center field. Reliever George Frazier got Royals DH Hal McRae to strike out swinging to end the inning, and Royals closer Dan Quisenberry retired the Yankees in order to end the game in the bottom of the ninth before a paltry crowd of a little more than 1,000.
And so ended the most ridiculous game in baseball history.