In the wake of the Sammy Sosa bat-corking fiasco, one may be reminded of some of the other famous instances of bat-doctoring: the ejection and suspension of the despised Albert Belle and the subsequent theft of the corked bat by pitcher Jason Grimsley, the day superballs burst from Graig Nettles' splintered lumber, or Wilton Guerrero's attempt to make his way onto the Dodgers' starting lineup by any means necessary, even if it meant cheating. However, what is probably the most famous case of a player being ejected for using an illegal bat occurred on July 24, 1983 when the Kansas City Royals faced the New York Yankees at Yankee Stadium.
It was a close game going into the top of the ninth inning, with the Yankees up 4-3. Yankee pitcher Dale Murray managed to get the first two outs, but left toothpick-chewing Kansas City speedster U.L. Washington on first base. Closer Goose Gossage was brought in to face the powerful former-MVP George Brett, who rose to the occasion, swatting a high fastball over the right field fence. This gave the Royals a one run lead with half an inning to go.
The Yankees had an ace up their sleeve, however. Third baseman Graig Nettles knew his bat-doctoring rules (having dabbled in it himself) and had noticed early-on that Brett's bat was in violation of league rules regarding the presence of foreign substances. Rule 1.10(c) reads "the bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from the end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. Any such material or substance, which extends past the 18-inch limitation, shall cause the bat to be removed from the game." Having pointed out to the Yanks' fiery manager Billy Martin that the pine tar Brett used extended well above the handle, they waited until the right moment to put their knowledge to work. Bringing it to the umpires' attention would not get them anything unless Brett accomplished something with the bat.
Almost before the slugger's towering home run cleared the fence, Martin trotted out to rookie umpire Tim McClelland (who later on was the crew chief at both Belle's and Sosa's bat-corking incidents), asking him to check the bat. As the players headed for the dugout and Brett circled the bases, McClelland got hold of the bat and went to confer with the rest of the officiating crew. As they huddled, Brett began pacing angrily back and forth in the Royals' dugout, Nettles began to leave, assured that the third out would be called and the game brought to an end. The commentators mixed up the rules, saying the pine tar had to be below the label on the bat, Martin stood impatiently by, and the fans provided loud and confused background noise.
As McClelland brought the bat towards home plate, which is conveniently 18 inches across, and measured the pine tar, it became evident what the call would be. The announcers, mistaken regarding the letter of the law, cast doubt on the umpires' methods and expressed incredulity at how bizarre the whole incident was. Sure enough, McClelland, now assured that the bat was indeed in violation of the rules, turned to the Royals' dugout and called Brett out. In what is now one of the game's more famous images, Brett leapt out of the dugout in a single bound and ran flat out towards the umpire with murder in his eyes. While he was restrained by umpire Joe Brinkman before reaching his target, he continued to curse and rage at everyone around him.
Amidst the confusion, Royals pitcher Gaylord Perry (never one to follow the rules, anyway) grabbed the bat and ran for the dugout in an attempt to hide the evidence. He was stopped by stadium security before reaching the clubhouse and joined Brett, Royals manager Dick Howser and coach Rocky Colavito on the list of the players ejected from the game. Players, fans and announcers alike were stunned by the call, the latter of whom were so outraged that such a decision should decide the outcome of the game, that they only officially gave the final score on the air out of respect for their network.
The bat was recovered, the fans went home, and the official report was filed, stating that Brett's bat had "heavy pine tar" 19 to 20 inches from the tip of the handle and lighter pine tar for another three or four inches. The ruling was immediately appealed by the Royals and the decision was placed before American League president Lee MacPhail. Within a week, MacPhail decided to overturn the ruling, saying that Brett's bat had not violated the spirit of the rules and that "games should be won and lost on the playing field—not through technicalities of the rules." Brett's ejection, however, stood, and he would not be on the field when the final 4 outs were played on August 18.
The Yankees were, of course, livid. Owner George Steinbrenner said, "I wouldn't want to be Lee MacPhail living in New York." The team announced that they would charge full price for the game's continuation, and though they quietly overturned the decision, only 1,200 people showed up. Billy Martin immediately appealed the home-run, stating that Brett had not touched first or third on his home-run trot. The umps were prepared, however, and produced a notarized letter from the original officials saying Brett had touched all the bases. Never one to surrender the last word, Martin placed pitcher Ron Guidry in center field and first baseman Don Mattingly (a lefty, and thereby useless) at second base, in protest. Though Brett's teammate Hal McRae had promised to hit a home-run, thereby making the whole incident moot, he struck out and Royals closer Dan Quisenberry mowed the Yankees down in the bottom of the 9th. The game was finally over.
Official rule 1.10(c) now reads, "NOTE: If the umpire discovers that the bat does not conform to (c) above the pine-tar rule until a time during or after which the bat has been used in play, it shall not be grounds for declaring the batter out, or ejected from the game."
"Prior to 1983, I was always ridiculed at ballparks about an ailment (hemorrhoids) I had during the 1980 World Series. Now, since 1983, I'm always known as the Pine Tar Guy. Now what would you rather be known as?" - George Brett