Thursday, January 17, 2019

Retro Teachable - McClelland & Brett's Pine Tar Game

Today's Retro Teachable handles a sticky situation. The "pine tar" game was the confrontation heard around baseball: George Howard Brett was ejected seven times in his career in 2747 games as a player and Tim McClelland 76 as an umpire in 4,236 regular season games, but none sent shock waves around the sports world like McClelland's ejection of Brett on July 24, 1983. That date is better known as the Pine Tar Incident. If you're a fan of Seinfeld you'll know incidents aren't a good thing.

Having only called 72 games over two big league seasons before the '83 campaign, George Brett was Tim McClelland's first career big league ejection. How's that for a how-do-you-do? Read on to see how it went down.

By now, the story is lore: Royals slugger Brett in the top of the ninth against the Yankees turns a one run deficit into a one-run lead with a two-run homer off Hall of Famer Goose Gossage. Brett, a HOFer himself, rounds the bases, but even before he's touched home, Bronx Bombers skipper Billy Martin is pointing to Brett's bat, which is now in the hands of home plate umpire McClelland.

Brinkman's crew discusses Brett's pine tar bat.
McClelland looks like he knows that the pine tar rule has been violated, but calls in his crew mates for a consult. The Crew Chief—2B Umpire Joe Brinkman—1B Umpire Drew Coble, and 3B Umpire Nick Bremigan get together, which in the early 80s was virtually UNHEARD OF (McClelland later recounted that Bremigan was the crew's "rules guy" and thus an invaluable resource for this sticky situation). Brinkman takes total control, rids the crew of players and managers and gets in a discussion with his partners. At this point, it's hard to believe he was only in his 11th year in the American League, for he already had a World Series and two ALCS under his belt.

When you huddle like this, it's best to go over all things possible and when you eventually make your decision, it's important that people know their post huddle responsibilities. Before the crew breaks up, all four umpires should know exactly where and what they will do next.

McClelland lays Brett's bat along home plate.
In this case, we go down the golden road to home plate to measure the bat. Why is that? Home plate is 17 inches wide. At the time Rule 1.10(c) of the Major League Baseball rule book, stated, "a bat may not be covered by such a substance more than 18 inches from the tip of the handle" (OBR 3.02(c) currently states, "The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from its end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. Any such material or substance that extends past the 18- inch limitation shall cause the bat to be removed from the game").

Thus, if home plate is 17 inches, most people should be able to add an inch with relative ease.

Chaos breaks out after the pine tar out call.
Based on McClelland's measurement, he correctly (per 1983 rules) calls Brett out, the Royals eventually protest and the ruckus ensues, as McClelland adds to his ejection slate with Rocky Colavito, Dick Howser, and Gaylord Perry (after the umpires confiscated Brett's bat, Perry attempted to steal it away).

The ruling was summarily flipped by American League President Lee MacPhail (Pronounced Mac-Fail), who cited past precedent as his reason for allowing the protest to stand...and that's where Tim Welke comes in.

Wait, What? Welke and his crew led by Davey Phillips signaled "safe" when the game resumed on August 18, 1983, when Martin appealed that Brett missed every base. Back on July 24, Brinkman's crew had signed an affidavit attesting to the observation that all bases were touched—And you thought it couldn't get any more crazy that a guy charging at an umpire from the dugout!

The Playing Rules Committee subsequently, and hastily, added a provision into then-Rule 1.10(c)/now-Rule 3.02(c) stating, "If the umpire discovers that the bat does not conform to (c) above 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."

Naturally, this regulation did not exist in 1983—the procedure back then, prior to the rules change, was to declare the offender out and to confiscate the bat! The George Brett-Tim McClelland pine tar game (and McPhail's protest ruling that contradicted the rule on the books at the time) singlehandedly forced MLB to change this rule. Otherwise, McPhail's decision would have truly been anarchist.

McPhail's affirmation of Kansas City's protest angered Yankees manager Billy Martin so much that when a slew of legal challenges by New York didn't prove successful in the court system, Martin turned the resumption-of-play portion of the game into a mockery, assigning pitcher Ron Guidry to center field and placing left-handed first baseman Don Mattingly at second base.

As for McClelland, though, he got the call right per the rule as written at the time.

Hey if you want to learn how to handle situations like this and more check out the banner above and see if the Professional Umpire Camp (PUC) is for you. Until next time Happy Umpiring everyone!!

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Tim McClelland calls George Brett out for excess pine tar (MLB)


Post a Comment