A few years ago, I met a real old timer who had seen Dodger games many times back when the team was still The Brooklyn Dodgers. This man saw Jackie Robinson hit a home run and steal home. He told me all about “The Boys of Summer” and that was just exceptionally cool. Even at 92, his memory was crystal clear and he really brought that long-gone ballpark and that amazing team to life for me. It’s was an amazing experience.
One of my clearest personal memories is an event I shared with John. No, we weren’t at the ballpark. It was on TV. I’d dropped by John’s house so we could play a little catch, maybe shag some fungoes, since we were playing softball regularly in those days.
Walking into John’s livingroom, a ball game was on: the Yankees hosting the Royals. Back then the Royals had a potent lineup, centered around their all-star third baseman, George Brett. Top of the ninth and the Royals down by a run, Goose Gossage was on the mound and UL Washington was standing on first base as Brett strode to the plate.
Brett never used batting gloves and to get a more secure grip on his bats, he used pine tar to make the handle sticky. As bats were used, more and more pine tar got on them. Yankees manager, Billy Martin (or Greg Nettles, as some stories go), had noticed that – and the fact that it was illegal – but kept the observation to himself for use at a strategic time. July 24, 1983 gave him that strategic opportunity.
I’ll let the following video tell the next part of the story. Bear in mind that John and I were watching this fascinating and memorable event unfold on TV:
I will never forget seeing Brett, eyes bulging, a look of complete craziness on his face as he rushed out of the visitor’s dugout that afternoon. John mumbled, “Holy crap!” and we just silently watched as the circus arrived in town. What a memory of one of the oddest incidents in the history of the game.