30th anniversary: the Pine Tar Game

Thirty years ago today, one of the most infamous and bizarre games of the 1980s took place—the Pine Tar Game between the Royals and the Yankees.

The day began normally enough on July 24, 1983. The visiting Royals fought the Yankees hard for eight innings, but entering the ninth the Yankees clung to their narrow 4-3 lead.

Yankees manager Billy Martin let reliever Dale Murray start the ninth instead of star closer Rich Gossage. Sure, it was a save situation, but it was 1983—you didn’t always use your closers in every ninth inning save opportunity. Besides, Murray had pitched a fine two and two-thirds innings so far. (Speaking of how times have changed—when was the last time you saw a reliever enter in the sixth and still work in the ninth?)

Murray got two easy outs to begin the inning, putting the Yankees one away from a victory before the Bronx crowd of 33,944. If the next batter made an out, no one would ever remember this game.

But U L Washington helped send the game into a trajectory of the improbable, singling to center, to keep the game alive. He was the tying run, with the winning run at the plate.

That winning run was George Brett.

Here’s where it happened. First, Martin went to his bullpen. Murray might be a nice enough pitcher under normal circumstances, but with a superstar like Brett, Martin wanted his superstar reliever. Enter Gossage.

Gossage would have a fine season in 1983. He’d score just 22 saves, but pitch 87.1 innings in 57 relief appearances, win 13 games, and fan 90. And he allowed just five homers.

But we all know what happened here, right? Gossage threw. Brett swung. The ball sailed. Suddenly a jubilant Royals team had a 5-4 win. All the Yankees were disheartened.

Well, all the Yankees except one. Normally Martin took losing harder than anyone. An even keel was never part of his makeup. But he was also a master at looking for the angle, and he knew he had the angle here.

Earlier that year Martin noticed that Brett put too much pine tar on his bat. The rules state only 18 inches, and Brett had more. Martin never said anything at the time, because why should he? Unless the situation could help the Yankees, Martin wasn’t going to bring it up.

But wow, would it ever help the Yankees here! All Brett did with his pine-tarred bat was change the outcome of the game with two outs in the ninth. (In fact, it was such a clutch shot that WPA lists it as the most game-changing home run of George Brett’s career). Martin immediately came out of the dugout and made the umpires look at the bat. They had to agree. The homer was nullified, Brett was out and the game was over.

Except it was far from over.

In clips that have been shown a million times since then, Brett came charging out of the dugout, wanting to throttle home plate umpire Tim McClelland. The ump stood by his by-the-book ruling, but the Royals fumed. They issued a protest and, in a rarity, the protest was upheld. The commissioner acknowledged that the umpires made the right technical call, but said it “wasn’t in the spirit of the rules.” The homer was allowed and now the Yankees fumed.

Eventually the bottom of the ninth was played and the Yankees lost, but that was up in the future. The pine tar homer itself was 30 years ago today.

Aside from that, many other baseball events today celebrate their anniversaries and “day-versaries” (which are things that happened X-thousand days ago). Here they are, with the better items in bold if you’d rather just skim.


2,000 days since the Red Sox sign free agent first baseman Sean Casey.

8,000 days since the Angels release Floyd Bannister.

8,000 days since Carlton Fisk becomes the oldest person in the 20th century to homer twice in one game.

15,000 days since the Braves trade Orlando Cepeda to the A’s for Denny McLain. Both are well past their prime.

30,000 days since Babe Ruth belts the 11th of his career 12 walk-off homers.

40,000 days since the Yankees get pitcher Al Orth in a trade from Washington for two players.


1863 Hall of Fame outfielder Tommy McCarthy is born. He doesn’t deserve his spot in the Hall.

1864 Jack Clements, a terrific hitting catcher, is born.

1882 The Cubs destroy Cleveland, 35-4.

1886 Adonis Terry throws a no-hitter for a 1-0 win.

1887 Twenty days after playing his last game, Pittsburgh first baseman Alex McKinnon dies of typhoid fever.

1901 Milwaukee’s Pink Hawley beans Boston catcher Lou Criger, who is unconscious for five minutes after it. He survives, fortunately.

1901 The Pirates score every inning in an 11-2 win over the Reds.

1905 Tigers workhorse George Mullin surrenders his first over-the-fence home run in two years and 15 days. He won’t give up another one since July 2, 1910.

1909 Dodgers ace Nap Rucker fans 16 in a 1-0 win over the Cardinals.

1911 An AL All-Star team plays Cleveland to raise $12,914 for the family of the late pitcher Addie Joss. Appearing in the game are Walter Johnson, Smokey Joe Wood and Hal Chase, among others.

1911 In the Eastern League, a Rochester-Newark doubleheader takes two hours and 32 minutes to complete.

1915 Nap Lajoie hits into a walk-off triple play against Sad Sam Jones.

1915 St. Louis purchases veteran pitcher Red Ames from the Reds.

1918 Waite Hoyt, Hall of Fame pitcher, makes his big league debut.

1920 Black Sox Eddie Cicotte wins his 200th decision. He’s 200-145 for his career, which will come to an abrupt end in two months.

1923 Babe Ruth launches the first of 17 homers he’ll hit off Rube Walberg, the most he has against any single pitcher.

1926 AL pitcher Alvin “General” Crowder makes his big league debut. He’ll win 50 games in 1932-33.

1926 Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig pull off a double steal.

1930 Hall of Fame outfielder Chick Hafey hits his 100th career home run.

1931 Babe Herman hits his second career cycle.

1932 Joe Cronin triples for the third consecutive game. He’s got four in this span.

1933 The Cardinals make second baseman Frankie Frisch their manager. He’ll manage various NL teams until the early 1950s.

1933 The Yankees sign free agent pitcher George Uhle, who was terrific a decade earlier, but is on fumes now.

1934 Earle Combs fractures his skull hitting the wall at Sportsman’s Park. The Yankees would’ve called up George Selkirk to take his place, but he broke his arm this very same day.

1935 Phillies pitcher Hugh “Losing Pitcher” Mulcahy makes his big league debut.

1936 Star center fielder Earl Averill scores five runs in a game for the only time. It comes in Cleveland’s 16-3 destruction of the A’s.

1938 Gabby Hartnett draws four walks in one game.

1939 Brooklyn selects outfielder Dixie Walker off waivers from Detroit.

1940 Bill Dickey hits the last of his eight career slams.

1946 Johnny Mize smacks his only walk-off home run.

1947 The all-time record for the Dodgers franchise reaches .500 (4,650-4,650). It has been over .500 ever since.

1948 Enos Slaughter hits his 100th career home run.

1948 A bus crash kills five and injures 13 members of the Duluth club in the Northern League.

1948 Pat Seerey of the White Sox becomes the first person to fan seven times in one doubleheader.

1949 Indians Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Lemon homers twice in one game, which gives Cleveland a 7-5 win over the Senators.

1949 Stan Musial hits for the cycle.

1951 Stan Musial hits his 194th home run as a Cardinal, passing Rogers Hornsby as all-time franchise leader. He still is, with 30 more than Albert Pujols (475 vs. 445).

1951 The Say Hey Kid, Willie Mays, makes a bare handed catch off a Rocky Nelsonline drive.

1952 Duke Snider belts his 100th home run.

1954 At the end of today’s game, the Yankees use Mickey Mantle as second baseman versus right-handed batters and at shortstop for lefties. It’s the only time he ever plays second in the big leagues.

1954 Ted Williams receives a $250 fine for spitting at A’s fans the day before.

1955 A first inning double in the second game of a doubleheader gives Duke Snider the highest batting average of his career: .309489 (1,259 hits in 4,068 at bats). After this hit he’ll have 857 hits in 3,093 remaining career at bats, a .277 average.

1956 Walter O’Malley clears a hurdle in getting a new stadium when the New York state assembly approves of the Brooklyn Sports Authority. The plan, obviously, won’t come to fruition and he’ll move the team to LA.

1957 Ace White Sox pitcher Billy Pierce has probably his worst day ever at the plate, going 0-for-5 with four strikeouts and a GIDP.

1960 Nellie Fox gets his 2,000th career hit.

1961 Frank Robinson’s hitting streak peaks at 19 games, his longest career streak. He’s 36-for-73 with 10 doubles, two triples, and nine homers in that span for an AVG/OBP/SLG of .493/.542/1.055. That’s a helluva 19 game streak!

1963 Jim Kaat homers while throwing a complete game shutout in a 5-0 Twins win over the Indians. It’s the only time he ever combines those two in one game. He also fans 11 along the way.

1964 Barry Bonds is born.

1965 Casey Stengel manages his last game. He’ll break his hip and have to miss the rest of the season and then retire.

1965 Sandy Koufax wins his 11th consecutive decision, his longest ever streak. His numbers in that line: 11-0, 14 G, 14 GS, 11 CG, 114.2 IP, 76 H, 33 R, 25 ER, 24 BB, 130 K, and a 1.96 ERA.

1966 Don Drysdale hits his 29th and final home run. He’ll play three more years but never get No. 30. He also tosses a complete game shutout, his fourth HR/SHO combo.

1968 Don Drysdale loses 1-0 to the Astros due to the inning from hell. Here’s what happens: BB, BB, HBP, and RBI-HBP. He hits three batters in the entire game.

1968 Hoyt Wilhelm pitches in his 907th game, passing Cy Young for No. 1 on the all-time list.

1969 Don Sutton loses his 13th consecutive decision to the Cubs.

1970 White Sox third baseman Beltin’ Bill Melton fans seven times in one doubleheader.

1970 Carl Yastrzemski reaches base by catcher’s interference for the only time in his career.

1970 In the 10th inning of a 1-1 game, Tommie Agee steals home for a 2-1 New York Mets victory.

1971 Fergie Jenkins fans 14 in one game, tying his personal high.

1975 The Royals fire Jack McKeon, tabbing Whitey Herzog to replace him.

1976 Danny Murtaugh manages his 2,000th game. His record: 1,075-922.

1976 Lyman Bostock hits for the cycle.

1977 Mariners pitcher John Montague pitches 6.2 innings of perfect relief, giving him 33 consecutive batters retired over two outings. This ties an AL record (since broken).

1978 In a teary-eyed press conference, Yankees manager Billy Martin announces he’s resigning.

1978 Pete Rose’s hitting streak reaches 37 games, tying the 20th century NL record held by Tommy Holmes.

1979 Carl Yastrzemski hits his 400th homer. The pitcher is a very young Mike Morgan.

1979 Bob Stinson gets on base twice in one game via catcher’s interference. This is one of just six times that’s happened since 1920.

1979 Lee Lacy has an odd time of things. He tries to steal second and is called out. However, it was ball four when he ran, so he’s safe. Double however—he went back to the dugout after the foiled stolen base attempt, and so is called out for leaving the field. Pittsburgh will protest the play. I believe this happened during the umpires’ strike when replacement umps worked the games.

1983 Detroit’s star shortstop Alan Trammell has his only 5-for-5 day.

1984 The Mets retire Tom Seaver’s number (41).

1985 Bert Blyleven completes his 10th consecutive start, a career best. He’s 6-4 with a 2.24 ERA in that span.

1985 Von Hayes hits the only inside the park homer ever legged out against Nolan Ryan.

1989 Wilson Alvarez, pitcher, makes his big league debut.

1990 Keith Hernandez appears in his last game.

1992 Fay Vincent announces that Yankees owner George Steinbrenner may resume ownership duties on March 1, 1993.

1993 Harold Baines gets his 2,000th career hit.

1993 Mets pitcher Anthony Young loses his 27th straight decision when he walks in a run.

1993 Vince Coleman tosses a firecracker from a car, hurting a woman and two children. He’ll earn a felony charge for this.

1996 Joe Torre manages his 2,000th game. His record: 954-1,042.

1997 The Reds release aging infielder Terry Pendleton.

1998 For the second and final time in his career, Larry Walker triples twice in one game.

1998 The Mets sign free agent Melvin Mora.

1999 Tom Candiotti appears in his last contest.

1999 Mark Redman makes his big league debut.

1999 Trot Nixon hits three home runs in one game.

2000 Ivan Rodriguez breaks his thumb. He’ll be out the rest of the year for Texas.

2001 Shawn Green hits the 10,000th home run in the history of the Dodgers franchise (which includes their very early years in the American Association).

2002 Brett Myers makes his big league debut.

2002 Orlando Hudson makes his big league debut.

2003 Barry Bonds celebrates his birthday by hitting his seventh career walk-off home run. He’ll have three more in his career.

2005 For the second straight day, an Orioles game ends with Rafael Palmeiro striking out with the bases loaded. Baltimore loses by four today and lost by one yesterday.

2007 Craig Biggio hits his fourth and final career grand slam. He also announces he’ll retire at the end of this season.

2009 Oakland trades Matt Holliday to the Cardinals for prospects.

2010 Magglio Ordonez plays in his final game.

2012 The Brewers lose a heart-breaker, 7-6 to the Phillies. Entering the bottom of the ninth Milwaukee leads 6-3, and the Brewers even strike out the first batter of the inning to put themselves two outs from victory. Then six straight batters reach—three on singles and three on walks—to tie the score. A liner to the outfield then scores the winning run. This is the first of three straight Phillies-Brewers games to end in 7-6 triumphs for Philadelphia.

2012 Alex Rodriguez becomes the fifth player in baseball history to fan for the 2,000th time.

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10 years ago

As much as the 1986 Mets/Cincy game in another post.

I wondered why Root Sports had it on their pre-game last night.  Kinda makes sense now – not.

Paul G.
10 years ago

Ah, Vince Coleman.  One of the Mets many excellent free agent acquisitions.  Back when I played a text-based online game that had Vince and Bret Saberhagen as (very low-level) monsters who attacked with firecrackers and bleach respectively.  Yeah, it was that kind of game.  For some reason the Mets cap provided slightly better armor than the Braves cap….

10 years ago

The Pine Tar game seems to be getting a lot of press today (and yesterday).  So, I guess the media thinks people care.  Probably because it involved George Brett and Billy Martin and the Yankees, etc. 

It was also precedent setting in interpreting the rules.  Not sure how much, but it did set a precedent.

Tom B
10 years ago

I feel like deep down… no one really cares about the pine tar game. smile

10 years ago

Now I find out the spirit of the rule was to not get pine tar on the ball when it was hit, so the pitcher wouldn’t have an advantage.  In 1983, not every baseball exposed to air was thrown out like today.  Supposedly there was no hitting advantage to having excess pine tar.

This story gets better with age and research.

Thanks for bringing it up, as so many others have today.