George Brett is among a select group of players who never wore batting gloves. The Hall of Famer used an unvarnished Louisville Slugger, which tended to slip in muggy weather if he didn't coat it with pine tar and rosin.
"I wasn't aware of any rule about pine tar,'' Brett, 60, said Tuesday with a laugh as he recalled his most famous at-bat before the Royals-Yankees game. "I applied it before every at-bat.''
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Three decades later, Brett, the Royals' interim hitting coach, can laugh about what is known as the "pine tar incident.'' It happened July 24, 1983, when his ninth-inning home run off Goose Gossage at old Yankee Stadium was nullified when plate umpire Tim McClelland ruled there was too much pine tar on his bat.
At the time, however, he remembers telling a Royals teammate he "was going to kill'' someone shortly before charging, red-faced and crazy-eyed, out of the dugout to argue the call.
"I looked like my dad chasing me through the house after I brought home my report card in high school,'' Brett said. "I think it just showed my desire to win, and especially win here in New York. I loved playing here and I loved it when the fans booed me, which they did often.''
With the go-ahead, two-run homer nullified, Brett was called out, ending the game. A few days later, however, AL president Lee MacPhail overturned the decision, although he agreed Brett had broken the rule that prohibited having pine tar more than 18 inches from the bat's knob.
MacPhail ordered the game resumed with two outs in the top of the ninth with the Royals ahead 5-4. He also ruled Brett was to be ejected for his outburst. The game did not resume until Aug. 18, and the Royals held on to win, 5-4.
Instead of coming to the Bronx that day, Brett said he went out for dinner with the team's traveling secretary in Newark and waited for his teammates to rejoin him before they flew on to Baltimore for a series.
Brett says he used the same bat two more times before teammates convinced him it would become valuable. He has since donated it to the Hall of Fame.
Only 11 players on the Royals' 25-man roster were born before the pine tar incident, but through the magic of YouTube and replays on ESPN, all are intimately familiar with it. Brett, a career .305 hitter who remains the only player to win a batting title in three different decades, said it doesn't bother him that this one game generated so much notoriety.
Maybe because that's because prior to the pine tar incident, one of Brett's more notable moments was when he had minor surgery during the 1980 World Series against the Phillies.
"Before the pine tar game, I was known as the hemorrhoid guy,'' Brett said. "I think I heard every hemorrhoid joke in the world. Pine tar saved me.''