All over a little bit of pine tar

“Obviously I disagreed with the call, so I calmly went out there to question them.” – George Brett

The famous Pine Tar incident, July 24, 1983 at Yankee Stadium.  The video does a sufficient job of showcasing and explaining the event itself, so I won’t waste your time by reiterating it here.

But what is pine tar?  Of what use is it to a baseball player?

Pine tar is a sticky material derived from the roots and stump of pine trees.  When it was first created in Sweden, ropes and wooden ships were coated with it for the sake of waterproofing and preservation.  When used on a baseball bat, pine tar creates a texture that makes it easier to grip the bat and prevents it from slipping from the player’s hands in the hot, humid weather.  It also allows a hitter to get more “pop” out of the bat without having to utilize a death grip on the handle.  But does it really give a batter an advantage when it comes to hitting a baseball?  According to former American League President Lee MacPhail: no, it doesn’t.

In 1983, according to Official Playing Rule 6.06(a), “a batter is out for illegal action when he hits an illegally batted ball.”  And according to Rule 1.10(b), a bat “treated with any material [including pine tar] … which extends past the 18 inch limitation … shall cause the bat to be removed from the game.”  It was by combining these two rules that the umpires decided to rule the play an out.

In the case of George Brett, MacPhail overrode the call because the rule had more to do with economics than with any potential competitive advantage.  As he states in the video, “Pine tar didn’t help that ball that Brett hit go out of the ballpark.”  However, if pine tar gets on a baseball, it renders the ball unfit for continued use in a Major League game.  MacPhail argued that while the ruling was “technically defensible, [it] is not in accord with the intent or spirit of the rules. […]  The rules provide instead that the bat be removed from the game.  The protest of the Kansas City Club is therefore upheld and the home run by Brett is therefore permitted to stand.”  The rule has since been revised in the spirit of this interpretation and clearly states today that since no objection was made to Brett’s use of the bat prior to his hitting the home run, the play stood.

According to the official rule book of 2012:

Rule 1.10(c) Comment: If pine tar extends past the 18-inch limitation, then the umpire, on
his own initiative or if alerted by the opposing team, shall order the batter to use a different bat. The batter may use the bat later in the game only if the excess substance is removed. If no objections are raised prior to a bat’s use, then a violation of Rule 1.10(c) on that play does not nullify any action or play on the field and no protests of such play shall be allowed.

The image of George Brett charging out of the dugout, arms flailing, is one that no doubt will stand the test of time.  As New York’s Don Mattingly described it, “The sight of George coming out of the dugout is etched in my mind forever.  That roar symbolizes the way he plays the game, the kind of fire he has.”  Makes me wish I could have been there to see it in person.

Box scores for the game can be found here:



“2012 Edition: Official Baseball Rules.”  Commissioner of Baseball, 2011.  Web.  Accessed 13 March 2013.

Hoefs, Jeremy.  “What Is Baseball Pine Tar?”  Demand Media, Inc., 23 Mar 2010.  Web.  Accessed 13 March 2013.

“Royals Hall of Fame Photo Galleries: The Pine Tar Game.”  MLB Advanced Media LP, 2001-2013.  Web.  Accessed 13 March 2013.