ROBERT RODRIGUEZ / ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge
KANSAS CITY - George Brett had a Hall of Fame career with the Kansas City Royals that included more than 3,000 hits, batting titles in three decades, an MVP award and a World Series championship.
Still, for most baseball fans, two words quickly come to mind when they hear Brett's name: pine tar.
Today is the 25th anniversary of Brett's famous meltdown at Yankee Stadium, an arm-flailing, eye-bulging tirade that came after he hit a homer, then was called out for having pine tar too far up the handle of his bat.
"I am so surprised that you play 20 years in the major leagues and you accomplish some things, and that's the one at-bat you're remembered for," Brett said yesterday during a conference call with reporters.
The Royals protested the call and it was later overturned. The Royals and Yankees finished the game Aug. 18 - three weeks and four days later - and the Royals won after closer Dan Quisenberry shut the door on the Yankees (part II took 12 minutes total time) to preserve a 5-4 victory, with Brett's home run providing the winning margin.
The July 24, 1983, game has added significance because Yankee Stadium is closing after this season to make way for a new ballpark.
"Only in New York. I think if it happens in Cleveland, it's not that big of a deal," Brett said. "I think if it happens someplace else that isn't New York, it's not that big of a deal."
With the Royals trailing 4-3, Brett hit the two-out, two-run homer off closer Goose Gossage, who on Sunday will be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. Brett entered the hall in 1999.
After the blast, Yankees manager Billy Martin immediately protested. Plate umpire Tim McClelland agreed, nullified the home run and called Brett out.
A red-faced Brett charged after McClelland. Teammates and coaches had to forcibly hold Brett back.
"We've had a lot of fun with this thing over the years," said Gossage, also on the conference call. "Of course, at the time it wasn't fun. ... George was the maddest human being I've ever seen."
Brett said he's amazed at how angry he became after the call. He watches a tape of the game at least once a year with his sons.
McClelland said he "wasn't thinking anything" when Brett charged out of the dugout.
"I knew he wasn't going to hit me or run over me," McClelland said. "If he did I'd probably own the Kansas City Royals now."
He described Brett as "a great ambassador to the game" and said the outburst was out of character.
"In my 26 years, he's the player that's been the best to the umpires," McClelland said. Brett, McClelland said, "very seldom argued - except for this one situation."
McClelland said the umpires made the right call, but the rule concerning pine tar was a bad one.
Brett said he had no idea there was a rule governing how far the sticky material could extend up the bat.
Martin knew the rule and was waiting for an opportune moment to nail Brett.
"If I would've made an out, they wouldn't have said a thing," Brett said.
Brett, now a vice president of baseball operations with the Royals, kept using the pine tar bat after the incident but eventually stopped and gave it to the Hall of Fame.