George Brett of the Kansas City Royals got his home run back yesterday. His bat will probably follow by Federal Express today.
American League President Lee MacPhail overruled the umpires' decision that had negated Brett's two-out, two-run home run against the New York Yankees Sunday. The Yankees pointed out that the pine tar on Brett's bat exceeded the legal limit of 18 inches.
Home plate umpire Tim McClelland called Brett out and the Yankees were declared 4-3 winners.
In upholding a protest by the Royals, MacPhail said the game "must be completed before the close of the season if practicable or at the close of the season if it should affect the first-place position in either division." The game would be resumed with Kansas City leading, 5-4, with two out in the top of the ninth.
However, the Yankees and Royals are not scheduled to play again this season. MacPhail's office said Aug. 18, an open date for both teams, is being considered as a completion date. It is possible the game will never be played if a date can't be found and it has no bearing on the pennant race.
"It is the position of this office that the umpires' interpretation, while technically defensible, is not in accord with the intent or the spirit of the rules and that the rules do not provide that a hitter be called out for excessive use of pine tar," MacPhail said at a press conference in New York yesterday.
The decision evened the Royals record at 46-46, moving them into second place in the West Division, and dropped the Yankees out of a first-place tie with the Baltimore Orioles in the East Division. "Justice has been served," said Hank Peters, the Orioles' general manager.
Brett, who was playing golf (shooting a round of 82), when the decision was announced, told UPI, "I wasn't counting on winning. I didn't have my heart set on winning. We got a lot of publicity out of it and it's been bad. It was a distraction. Who knows how long it's going to last? They might even have to have a Pine Tar Night at the ball park.
"There's no way I cheated. It's not like I used a cork bat. It was an oversight, a mistake. But then it wasn't a mistake. Any time you use pine tar, you're going to get dirt and smudges up high. But if you hit a ball off (Rich) Gossage on the pine tar, they'd use it as firewood. He'd break it into nine million pieces."
Gossage, who is in Chicago, where the Yankees will face the White Sox tonight, declined to comment.
"I don't like it, but there's nothing I can do about it," said umpire Joe Brinkman, the chief of the crew that nullified Brett's home run. "The league president has the final say, and that's his prerogative. The league champion shouldn't be decided on a thing like this, and I can understand his (MacPhail's) feeling about that. You can interpret the rulebook differently, and I feel we made the right interpretation."
Other reactions ranged from indignation to vindication.
"If the Yankees should lose the Eastern Division race on the ruling of MacPhail, I would not want to be Lee living in New York City," George Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, told UPI. "Perhaps he should start house-hunting in Missouri. Naturally, we are very disappointed in the league office ruling but I can say honestly I predicted it."
At a press conference carried live on Kansas City radio, John Schuerholz, general manager of the Royals, said, "We're surprised on the basis of historical precedent, but not surprised by the evidence and facts as we saw them. I had hoped and felt in my heart that based on the evidence we shipped to the American League office, the league would rule in our favor. We felt a strict interpretation of the intent and spirit of the rules would bear us out. I'm delighted."
The controversy began late Sunday afternoon, when Brett hit the second pitch from Gossage into the right field stands at Yankee Stadium. Yankees third baseman Graig Nettles had noticed the pine tar on Brett's Marv Throneberry model bat in a game two weeks before. Third Base Coach Don Zimmer remembered it, and Manager Billy Martin pointed it out to the umpires.
Section 1.10(b) of the Official Baseball Rules specifies pine tar may not be applied more than 18 inches from the bat handle. The rule does not spell out penalties against the batter but says the bat "shall be removed from the game."
Section 6.06(d) says a player should be called out and ejected from the game if his bat "has been altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball. This includes bats that are filled, flat-surfaced, nailed, hollowed, grooved or covered with a substance such as paraffin, wax, etc."
While Brett sat placidly in the visitors' dugout, Brinkman and home plate umpire McClelland examined the bat, measured it against home plate (which is 17 inches wide) and then called him out.
Brett charged out of the dugout and had to be restrained by Brinkman. He was ejected from the game, and MacPhail said he will study the situation and decide whether Brett will be allowed to play if the game is resumed. Kansas City Manager Dick Howser and Coach Rocky Colavito also were ejected.
According to MacPhail's office, the pine tar extends almost 24 inches from the handle. But in their protest, the Royals argued pine tar does not make for a "doctored bat."
MacPhail concurred, saying it was his impression the rule was intended to apply in cases in which a bat was altered "to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball. It has not been seriously contended that the pine tar on Brett's bat did either."
But Steinbrenner told UPI, "He (MacPhail) is certainly not a scientist and in no position, I feel, to make such a judgment. Nor would I be, nor any of my staff or his. That opened up Pandora's Box.
"One of our troubles in baseball is that we have an awful lot of rules written in black and white in our little book. This is just one case--and I can mention others--where, unfortunately, even though the rules are there in black and white, interpretations of those rules are made which do no more than confuse the issue."
Precedents contributed to the confusion. In 1975, when John Mayberry of the Royals hit two home runs against California, the Angels protested the bat was illegal because of pine tar. MacPhail disallowed the protest.
Also that year, an RBI single by the late Thurman Munson of the Yankees was disallowed because he had too much tar on his bat. But the game was suspended in the 15th inning and completed the next day in the next inning. The Yankees won. There was no protest.
"This was a very tough decision for me," MacPhail said. "Although the umpires are being overruled, it is not the fault of the umpires--rather it is the fault of the official playing rules."
The ruling is final and cannot be appealed to Commissioner Bowie Kuhn, according to Kuhn's office.
MacPhail, conceding the rules "in some areas are unclear and imprecise," will recommend a clarification to baseball's rules committee. Richie Phillips, general counsel to the Major League Umpires Association, said, "I would like to see one specific rule saying if there is anything on the bat beyond 18 inches, it's illegal and the batter will be declared out if detected."
Phillips said he does not believe MacPhail has the right to "consider equity" in making a decision based on the rules. "But neither do I think it's my position to take issue with it. It's the Yankees' position to do that. I would take issue with it if he said the umpires blew the rule."
As a result of the ruling, Brett's batting average went from .348 to .352 and he also regained two RBI. "I'm happy," he said. "I hope it doesn't mean anything in the standings. I hope we win by more than one game and the Yankees win or lose by more than one game. What would happen if we had to finish the game? I wouldn't look forward to going back to New York."
As Yogi Berra, the Yankee, once said, "It isn't over till it's over."