25th Anniversary: Brett and Pine Tar Game
July 24, 2008
George Brett and Goose Gossage, two Hall of Fame baseball players, squared off in what has become known in major league baseball legend as the Pine Tar Game, which I affectionately refer to as "Tarbat."
Yankee Stadium, a Sunday. Brett hit a HR off Goose in the top of the 9th. two out, put the Royals ahead, 5-4. Yankees manager Billy Martin approached home plate, issuing a protest over who-knew-what. Home plate umpire Tim McClelland huddled up with the other umpires, and laid the bat across the front of home plate for measurement.
McClelland then stepped toward the Royals' dugout, raised his thumb, and called Brett out.
Brett went berserk, and that's gross understatement. You can find a replay most anywhere by Google; enter Pine Tar Game, and watch the video to come up with your own adverb or adjective describing Brett-gone-bananas/bonkers/bwhatever.
Here are some links to good stories written by quality writers who are friends - Dick Kaegel with mlb.com, Tim Kurkjian with ESPN the Magazine/ESPN TV/ESPN.com, and a bright, refreshing young talent at the Kansas City Star, Sam Mellinger. (He has the best baseball column in the blogosphere, Ball Star.)
My story then begins behind the scenes of theirs. I'm blogging this because the infamous Pine Tar Game became a highlight day of achievement in another odd way, too. I drew an assignment to write about that game for the Kansas City Star and Times.
Odd, how things work out. One, I wasn't supposed to be at the game, and didn't want to be. Two, I wound up in a spot that I most definitely was not supposed to be - the Royals' dugout, witnessing the brouhaha as Brett and others were ejected from the game.
And the experience became one of my favorites to share with students studying journalism. Lessons of mindset (mine was bad), lessons of unorthodox method (mine was literally out of the box), and lessons of luck (wrong place, right time). Back to that in a little bit.
About that begrudging acceptance of the assignment - we were on vacation. Our family had just returned from London. We had visited, first, Paris and then many things Brit before my assignment at the British Open.
That in itself provided added enjoyment to the trip, because our home team, so to speak, won. KC's own Tom Watson, No. 1 in the world in those days, took a one-stroke victory at Royal Birkdale in Southport, England.
(Another 25th anniversary memory that rekindled last week: same course where ancient Greg Norman, age 53, threatened into the final round.)
So, then, baseball was not in the game plan. July 25 was youngest daughter's birthday. We had timed things to drive to Louisville from our friends' home on Long Island (in deference, all together now - Lon-Gyland, please), where we had left our traveling van.
There, the birthday girl, Kris-Ann, would celebrate with her sister, Kim, and their two buddies, the friends' two sons, Eric and Matt.
(Coincidental to this yarn, Kris-Ann goes to New York in a fortnight to watch and listen to Eric perform with the band Apples in Stereo, live on one of her favorite shows on her favorite channel: The Colbert Report on Comedy Central. There's a strange article by Colbert in the current issue of Esquire.)
(How did I get so far adrift?)
(WWS: wandering writer's syndrome.)
Ok, so there we were, birthday girl creating drama queen angst over the changed plans, me hatin' every step up to the Yankee Stadium press box, the entire globe spinning off its axis.
And baseball history happens.
Before it did, though, I theorized. Top of the 9th coming up. Martin, the manager, summons Gossage, reliever supreme, from the bullpen. Game over. Yes! I could speed this affair along. In Yankee Stadium after a game, going from the press box to the elevator that delivers media down to the press room and access to the clubhouses, you had to jostle some with the departing fans moving in opposite direction.
By leaving the press box before the inning started I would avoid fans and be in position downstairs when it ended. Grab a couple of obligatory quotes. Write fast. Outta there. Hit the highway.
But the Royals rallied. Brett added drama. Martin trumped him with histrionics, laced with hubris. McClelland added higher drama. Brett concluded with hysteria.
Somewhere in the middle of all that, after seeing some on TV in the press room, I thought, hey, the action ain't in here. I slid on down the tunnel to the mouth of the Royals' dugout, and started taking notes fast as a hand can scribble.
Arrived just in time for the bat relay. Gaylord Perry grabbed it from the umpire. Handed it to Steve Renko. (Tried to call Renk today; no answer.) I think Hal McRae was in there somewhere. (Couldn't reach him either.) Someone else got it. Nobody's ever ID'd who that was. Walkie-talkies squawked. One security guy grabbed the guy who had the bat, and wrested it away. Cops and robbers. Cool.
Had me a story. Wrote it. The kicker: it won first place in the annual newspaper article judging by The Associated Press for Reporting on Deadline.
Post scripts: 1. Lessons learned --
Have a positive, grateful, and passionate attitude about and approach to any work that somebody assigns you and is willing to pay you for;
Take chances and leave the work box sometimes;
Odds are decent that you can facilitate and stumble across some good luck now and again, if you're willing to stumble.
2. Family arrived in Louisville at 4 in the morning. Birthday cake held a bubblegum card of George Brett. Kris-Ann said she thought Nancy, our host, put his face down in the icing.
No, Nancy said, she wouldn't do that to someone she loved from afar, and who, she was certain, loved her, or certainly would have, had he known her.
"I had his card on top of the cake," she said today in recollection, "and beside it, a broken candle. His bat ruined our birthday party."
Is this where we cue up Paul Harvey...?