Written by Jeff Rich

Jeff Rich

BrettBreaking the rules is a funny thing.  Speaking in terms of baseball, there's cheating and there's stretching the boundaries of the guidelines as far as you can.  Punishment is issued accordingly, or so we'd like to believe.  If you run out of the baseline or interfere with a fielder's right to make a play, the punitive action is that you are out.  In turn, pitchers and fielders, if caught, risk surrendering extra bases to the offense for certain infractions.  The umpires play the role of judge, jury, and exectuioner; what they say, goes.  Sometimes, the umpires just don't get it all right, be it a subjective or objective call.  What happened to George Brett, thirty years ago this Wednesday in the Bronx, wasn't left to interpretation, it was just wrong.

It isn't often that the players run off the field and the broadcast ends with a result that doesn't stick.  To reset the situation, Goose Gossage came on in relief for Billy Martin's Yankees, trying to shut the door on a 4-3 win, after Dale Murray retired the first two Royals in the top of the ninth inning on July 24, 1983, but allowed a single to UL Washington, which extended the game, and brought Brett to the plate.  Brett smacked a home run into the right field seats at Yankees Stadium to give the Royals a 5-4 lead in a nationally televised game.

Pine TarThen, there was a discussion.  Billy Martin wanted the umpires to take a look at the bat, and they obliged Martin's request.  They took the bat and measured up against home plate, only to see the amount of pine tar exceed the 17 inch width of home plate by more than an inch or two.  The rule dictated that pine tar could not be applied more than 18 inches from the knob of the bat, a rule that was in place to protect the baseballs from being damaged, according to then-American League President Lee MacPhail.  The truth is pine tar above the handle of the bat offers positively no competitive advantage, but the rule was in place anyways.  Brett's teammates told an elated Brett that they thought he didn't stand a chance, being in New York and all.

"If they call me out for using too much pine tar, I'll run out there and kill one of those SOBs."

So, they called him out.  What a lot of people don't remember is that it was the final out of the game; 4-3 Yankees win.  George Brett wasn't kidding; it took all of Tim McClellan's crew to stop the Royals slugging third baseman from attacking the giant umpire.  He came out of the dugout like a bat out of hell, the Royals tried to take the bat into their clubhouse with New York's finest chasing him down to confiscate it, and the game ended with Dick Howser declaring the Royals intent to protest the ruling.  On the basis that pine tar did not help the ball go out of the park, MacPhail awarded the home run to Brett and ordered that the game resume with the Royals up 5-4.  25 days later, with Don Mattingly playing 2nd base and Ron Guidry in center field.  The final four outs of the game occurred without incident, and the Royals won 5-4.  In the grand scheme of things, the Yankees finished the year 7 games behind the Orioles in the East and Kansas City was 20 behind Chicago in the West, so this incident didn't exactly taint the 1983 season.

Of course, Billy Martin was looking to pull a fast one.  He waited for the big hit, and that's when he became the squeaky wheel.  It's doubtful Brett would have been called out if the bat was inspected before the at-bat, but since pine tar doesn't aid in home run hitting, the Yankees skipper had no reason to cry foul over the excessive pine tar.  His problem was the home run that did his team in that day.  It's difficult to justify un-doing something that happened, simply because the equipment shouldn't have been used.  Speaking of things that shouldn't have been used, Ryan Braun of the Brewers in finally in trouble using things he ought not have been using, but we all know he and Alex Rodriguez haven't been the only ones.

BelleI'm not on a witch-hunt for any of them.  Does the use of Performance Enhancing Drugs (PEDs) in Major League Baseball bother me?  Of course, it does; unfortunately, it defines an entire era of the game.  It's different than the cheating that involved stealing signs and throwing spitballs; it's more in the ballpark with corked bats, but the use of substances that are now banned is basically a "corked" player.  You might argue that what makes them illegal is the very danger of using them; some might believe that the motivation behind the charge against them is to take away the competitive advantage afforded players who take them, which aids in circumventing injury, while also making said cheaters into stronger players.

It really isn't a particularly hot button issue for me until it claims lives.  We know that it expedited the death of Ken Caminiti, Lyle Alzaedo, and too many names to recall in the world of Professional Wrestling.  That's not what the masses care about; it's all about the sacred record books.  Fans look back at the whole "Chicks Dig the Long Ball" campaign that accompanied Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chasing history in 1998, disappointed in how fraudulent it all was.  They want to purge the annals of baseball history, to disavow what McGwire and Sosa did to Roger Maris in '98, then what Barry Bonds did to them in 2001, and ultimately what Bonds did to Henry Aaron in 2007 with his 756th career home run.  That's what it's all about, punishing the cheaters and ignoring history to do so.

Unlike George Brett's pine tarred bat, there was an obvious advantage to be had between the steroids, the cream, the clear, and whatever illegal designer product Biogenesis was distributing to Major Leaguers as if it was Trick-or-Treat candy.  It's not fair, and the perps should be punished, when you can catch them.  They should not be able to chase or own records, fans and clean players alike should positively resent the cheaters for manipulating something as profound as baseball history.  Personally, I might only care because it does bother so many of the fans, and the game ceases to exist without the fans.

AaronI sometimes consider the possibility, what if we start scrubbing the record books, forcing the known-cheaters to vacate their places in infamy?  Maris and 61 sit on a pedestal, along with Aaron and 755; what's wrong with that?  They didn't use PEDs or corked bats.  They didn't have to appear on Capitol Hill to discuss allegations of cheating, nor did they plea bargain for House Arrest and get forced into retirement against their will.  Be it Babe Ruth, Maris, and Aaron, or Hank Greenberg and Jimmie Foxx, the National League single-season home run leaders (58) prior to '98, they got old and their bodies quit on them.  There are perils to being on the straight and narrow, even for world-class athletes.  What they deserve is to be rewarded for the straight and narrow, but revision is such a slippery slope.

The story from the Bronx was an easy fix, since the game was over and there was nothing to un-do, other than forget about McClelland ruling Brett out after the fact.  They could resume the game from that exact spot.  What if Brett was only the second out of the inning?  I'd assume Washington would have to return to first base, but what if Hal McRae brings him home with 2 outs in the inning to tie the game, and the Yankees win in 15 innings?  Can you un-do six innings of baseball at that point, then go back to re-do the last four outs.  That's just one game, with a fortunate circumstance that allowed them to pick up play right after the incident.  How messy do things get when you start thinking about a multitude of players, and entire careers to boot?

With Bonds alone, what do you do?  Above anyone else that's had the finger pointed at them, Bonds is Public Enemy #1, but he's also the target voted "Most Likely To Have Succeeded Without The Junk".  Where do you start to suspect him, around the time his 500th shot off Chan-Ho Park landed in McCovey Cove?  Or, do you go back to his days of playing for Jim Leyland in Pittsburgh?  Do you take the National League pennant away from the Giants in 2002, and to a further extent, how about those Pirates division crowns in the early 90s?

BashWhile we're going back 20 years, let's go back a few more.  Didn't Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco both play for the back-to-back-to-back American League Champions from 1988-1990?  Sure the Dodgers and Reds bookended that little run for those Athletics teams with disappointment, but what can we say to the 1989 Giants, who did not yet employ Barry Bonds?  Being literally cheated out of a title during the Earthquake Series, the Giants organization went without Championship glory from 1954 to 2010.  Juiced players turned a 35 year drought into 56, and yes, I am hearing every Cleveland fan playing the worldest smallest violins in perfect harmony for the Giants and their fans right now.

Do we want to talk about how the Yankees missed out on winning 4 consecutive titles because Luis Gonzalez had the chance to beat them?  Can anyone outside the state of Arizona deny that there's something fishy about a guy who never hit more than 31 in any other year manages to hit 57 in 2001?  That flew under the RADAR with Bonds chasing McGwire, and no one was making Gonzalez out to be the Sosa to Barry's McGwire.  It's all so difficult to make disappear, that I wonder why there's so much conversation about it.  Making baseball history disappear doesn't make sense to me, even having seen the efforts to ignore 4,256 hits, which still makes Pete Rose the all-time hits leader, even if he has to pay admission to enter that museum in Cooperstown.  I get that it's the only way to punish Rose, and at this point, it might be the only way to punish the guys in the record books, but it might be time to commend the efforts to keep Alex Rodriguez and Ryan Braun off those same lists.

Granted, the pine tar on the bat is a different story from the needle in the arm, but there's only one way to catch these crooks.  You have to catch them before they do the dirty.  After that, a blind eye is the only thing you can turn.  As far as the wrong people holding the records is concerned, isn't there some saying about what records are made to do?