Brett, Goose recall 'Pine Tar Incident'
25 years later, Hall of Famers linked by infamous episode
It happened 25 years ago, but the Hall of Fame principals involved remember it like it was yesterday.
Thanks to one of the most ubiquitous video replays in baseball history, fans who weren't even alive 25 years ago remember it like it was yesterday.
The Pine Tar Incident. No explanation necessary.
"My kids like to watch it," George Brett says with a laugh. "I have three boys -- 12, 13 and 15 years old -- who say, 'Let's put that tape in, Dad.' So we do, and they just fast-forward all the way to the end and sit around and chuckle."
On that tape is a game played at Yankee Stadium on July 24, 1983, and the end is all anyone really remembers about the contest. With his Royals down a run with two outs in the ninth inning, with the most feared closer in the game on the mound, Brett hit a two-run homer off Goose Gossage.
But that's not what Brett's boys want to watch over and over ... and over again. They want to see their old man in the most passionate display of on-field snappage ever seen.
Oh, sure, the Minor League manager who became an instant YouTube celebrity with his air-grenade act a couple years ago was a doozy. Earl Weaver and Lou Piniella blew gaskets like nobody's business back in the day, too.
But this ... this was truly epic.
"He was the maddest human being I think I've ever seen," Gossage says now. "Maddest baseball player I've ever seen, for sure. I don't think I've ever seen anyone madder than George Brett at that moment in time."
You've seen it on ballpark blooper reels and countless television shows counting down the biggest sports meltdowns of all-time. If it's not atop the list, it's at least in the top three.
"In the top three?" Gossage asks incredulously. "I'd say it's number one, two and three combined!"
After Brett returned to the Royals dugout, Yankees manager Billy Martin asked home-plate umpire Tim McClelland to inspect the bat with which Brett had goosed the Goose. McClelland obliged, found the pine tar to be excessively illegal under baseball's rules, turned to the Royals dugout, pointed the bat at Brett and raised his fist.
That dramatic home run? Just another out. The game was over.
But the show had just begun. Brett bounced off the dugout bench as if shot from a cannon, a ball of bug-eyed fury aimed directly at McClelland.
Never mind that McClelland was 6-foot-6, 250 pounds, protected by all sorts of ump armor and holding a large wooden stick. Brett wanted a piece of the big man, and it took the spirited efforts of several players to keep their enraged teammate from trying to get at him.
"I have no idea what I'd have done if nobody stopped me, but it wouldn't have been pretty," Brett concedes.
So indelible are the images of the incident, it even has its own Wikipedia page, and rarely does a day go by that Brett or Gossage or both aren't asked about it.
"If I've heard the words 'pine tar' once, I've heard them nine million times," says Brett, a 1999 Hall of Fame inductee.
Gossage, who formally joins the game's immortals in Cooperstown this Sunday, rolls his eyes and says, "I'd like to forget it, to be honest with you, but people won't let me."
|"I'm remembered for my reaction when they said it was an illegal bat, but it was overturned. So bottom line, I hit a home run to win a game. That's positive, right? There's worse things to be remembered for."|
|-- George Brett|
While Brett was going ballistic, Gossage says, "I was out there laughing my head off. I thought it was hilarious."
Alas, he adds, "George got the last laugh. He hit a game-winning homer and I got a blown save and a loss."
True, Brett says, but the homer isn't what most people remember. It's the sight of the maniac in powder blue bolting onto the field.
"It's pretty amazing," he says. "You play for 20 years, make a bunch of All-Star teams (13), win batting titles (three), a Gold Glove, an MVP award, a World Series ring, make the Hall of Fame ... and you're remembered for that one at-bat, basically. But it's fine. It's great.
"You know why? Because I played with a guy who was a great, great player for a long, long time -- Bill Buckner -- and what's he remembered for? I don't even have to tell you. He's remembered for that one thing, and that's a shame for a player of his caliber. So, at least I'm remembered for a positive thing. I'm remembered for my reaction when they said it was an illegal bat, but it was overturned. So bottom line, I hit a home run to win a game. That's positive, right?
"There's worse things to be remembered for."
Were it not for Hal McRae, Brett notes, the enduring memory of him might be the posterior problems he suffered during the 1980 playoffs.
McRae was on-deck when the Pine Tar Incident started to unfold and heard Martin yelling for the bat. If McRae had reacted quickly enough and tossed the bat into the Royals dugout, the whole thing might never have happened.
"I'm actually thankful to Hal for that," Brett says with a chuckle. "Otherwise I'd be known as the guy with hemorrhoids."
Brett retired 10 years after the Pine Tar Incident, Gossage a year after Brett. But they never spoke to each other about it during their playing days. In fact, they didn't speak at all.
"I didn't like Brett," Gossage admits. "I didn't like any hitters. I had tremendous respect for him, but I couldn't stand George Brett back then."
"I never said a word to Goose when we were playing," Brett confirms. "I played with him in All-Star Games, played against him in All-Star Games, played against him in Yankee Stadium, and played against him when he was with other American League teams, but I never said a word to him."
"I love him. Love him to death," Gossage gushed. "Greatest hitter I ever faced in his prime when I was in my prime."
And, apparently, an awfully good sport.
"I met him about two or three years after I retired, in Spring Training, had a nice conversation with him, and he wanted a bat for a restaurant in Colorado Springs (Gossage's hometown)," said Brett. "I was going to give him a new bat, but then I thought about it for a little bit and decided, 'You know what? I'm going to get one all pine-tarred up.'
"So I spent a whole Spring Training game -- the Yankees were playing the Royals and it lasted three hours or so -- just putting pine tar, rosin and dirt all over this thing. It was nasty. Then I signed it to him and said, 'Here you go, Goose.'"
Any special inscription?
"No," Brett says. "I probably just wrote, 'You're the best,' because I really do believe that he was one of the best pitchers of his era. Nobody wanted to face Goose back then. He was the most intimidating closer of our time or any other time."
And 25 years after the snap heard 'round the baseball world, the intimidator in Gossage surfaces again in a flash.
You had an unbelievable career, Goose. Any regrets?
"Not many, but I have one big one from that day," he says, eyes alight with intensity.
He leans forward as if to whisper. Only out comes bravado from the blast furnace framed by the famous fu-Manchu moustache.
"If I had it all to do over again," he booms, "I'd drill Brett right in the neck."
Mychael Urban is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.