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Rush Reminisces About His Time with the Royals, George Brett, and the 30th Anniversary of the Pine Tar Game


RUSH: Ladies and gentlemen, we've been talking about the NFL somewhat today, so we've had a bit of a sports motif, and we're coming up on the 30th anniversary, July 24th will actually be the date, the 30th anniversary of the Pine Tar Game.  George Brett and the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees.  It was a Sunday afternoon at Yankee Stadium.  Goose Gossage, Yankees up 4-3, top of the ninth, Brett up, bam, two-run home run, Royals up, and you know what happened. The Yankees had been waiting to accuse Brett of using a bat, pine tar too high on the bat, a supposed violation of Major League Baseball rules. 

I was working for the Royals when this happened.  I was not on the trip. I was not there. I was like everybody back in Kansas City watching it on TV, but there's a lot more to this story than people know.  The batboys for the visiting team are supplied by the home team.  In this case, the batboy for the Royals was a Yankees fan.  He was a 17-year-old kid, and the job of a batboy, among many other things, is at the crack of the bat, he runs out and grabs the bat, takes it back while play is taking place.  You run out, you get the bat out of the way. 

And in this case, the short version of the story is that Brett had a good relationship with this batboy, called him Spaulding.  It was his nickname, 'cause he looked like a character in Caddyshack. And the kid, the batboy, a Yankees fan, Gaylord Perry in the Royals dugout was urging the batboy to hide the bat, put it with all the other bats so it couldn't be found.  The batboy didn't.  The bat was produced. It was taken out there, and Tim McClelland, the plate umpire, and the Yankees, and Billy Martin's out there, and Graig Nettles were looking at it. And finally McClelland points at the Royals dugout and points at Brett, says, "You're out, bat's illegal.'  And just mayhem ensued. 

Brett stormed out of there and lost himself.  He's shouting and screaming, thrown out of the game. The late Dick Howser, the manager, got thrown out of the game.  But a great thing happened because of this, because three years earlier in the 1980 World Series, George Brett -- I don't even know if I should mention this, because the pine tar bat has become one of the great things that he's known for, the bat's in the Hall of Fame.  When he got back and people asked for autographs, he started autographing bats and he would draw a line around it and write "pine tar line" on it and then sign it. They became collector's items.  I mean, just a week after that when the Royals got back to town, Brett's laughing about it and everybody is having a good time.  But if you remember seeing it or videotape of it, I mean, it was brutal out there at home plate. 

Brett had to be restrained. Something like this had never happened before and it was eventually overturned. The Royals appealed. The home run was not allowed, they lost the game. They appealed it and Lee McPhail, the president of the American League, ruled in the Royals favor, so they had to go back in and finish about an inning and a half or half inning and a half of the game to make it official, which the Royals ended up winning and it all ended well.  But the 1980 World Series when the Royals played the Phillies, Brett had to come out of a game because of hemorrhoids.  And it was one of those unfortunate medicinal things, and everybody knew it.

It showed up in the media that Brett had hemorrhoids and, you know, people laugh about 'em, and I think it was game two, sliding into second base, breakout double play, bam, you could hear... I was in Philadelphia, and everybody knew that Brett had the hemorrhoids and slid into second base, and you could hear just the hush. People knew how painful that had to be. 

I had been kicked out of the press box as a nonlegitimate working press.  I was up there with the Royals contingent, but somebody, some sportswriter complained that I wasn't a real journalist, so I got kicked out, and there were no tickets. I had to go down to the Royals clubhouse to watch the game on TV in there, and I was there when George came in, and I then was given a responsibility to go find something, which I did, and everything was cool. 

But that pine tar thing ended up overshadowing all of that and it's become a folklore incident in baseball.  The Royals are in New York this week, and George had a press conference yesterday at four or five o'clock in the afternoon at the new Yankee Stadium to talk about it.  He's now the hitting instructor in the Royals, just took that job a few weeks ago.  But this pine tar bat incident was an incredible thing, and it's one of the things now that obviously George is known for in addition to being a Hall of Famer, third base, five hits short -- this is incredible.  I've never seen, and I'm sure it's happened -- I have never seen an athlete own a city like George Brett owned Kansas City in 1980. 

It was the first year for the World Series for the Royals, in Philadelphia, but George Brett was flirting with hitting .400, the first player to do that since Ted Williams, the Boston Sox. He came within five hits. I think his average at the end of the year was .390 and the Pine Tar Incident was three years later, but nevertheless it's become one of those folklore things.  He had the press conference yesterday in New York to talk about it.  We have just a little sound bite from it.  The 30th anniversary, I can't believe it was 30 years ago.  It's one of those things that seems like it all was just yesterday.  But here's just a little bit of it, we have just like a 20 second sound bite of it.

BRETT:  You know, that's what I'm known for.  And it could be worse.  I'm known for something positive, where Bill Buckner is known for something negative.  Now I'm the pine tar guy.  So it's really the greatest thing that ever happened to me.  Thank you, Billy Martin; thank you, Graig Nettles.  Still got a sore neck from Joe Brinkman's headlock, but it's getting better.

RUSH:  So that was Brett talking about the Pine Tar Incident yesterday in New York.  And, again, we all have experiences in life, and I bombed out at the Royals. I learned there I wasn't cut out for work in a corporate structure, 'cause I was not comfortable being so conformed and contained.  But those five years I wouldn't trade for anything.  They were my first five years out of radio since I was 16.  My first job, actually, outside of radio, and I met people I would have otherwise never met, and I actually got to -- well, you may not understand this.  I got to see how consumers used or listened to radio. 

My experience with radio prior to going to work in a radio station was a listener like everybody else. But then from age 15 all the way up to age -- what would have been -- 33, my experience with radio was in a room, small room enclosed in glass.  You ever wonder why so many radio people are absolute wacko?  Let me explain it to you.  And most of them are.  You sit in a room all by yourself, and you have to tell yourself that thousands are listening to you, that thousands are just poised to hear every word you're saying.  You have to psychologically tell yourself this. 

Then you leave that little room when your work is done and you go out and you find nobody cares.  And most people don't even know who you are, and nobody cares. And then the next day you gotta put that out of your mind and go in and lie to yourself and tell yourself everybody does care and everybody does hinge on every word you're saying. Then you leave the next day and you find out nobody cares, and nobody knows, and you become a wacko.  You need help.  Some more than others. 

Well, for me, getting out of that little room, that glass encased room for five years and being part of what I call the real world and being exposed to consumer product marketing, a number of other things. I mean, I didn't have a college degree. I really had no business getting this job, but I did, and I got it, and those five years even though I learned I wasn't cut out for it, I didn't make any money, and the last two years I wasn't all that particularly happy, but I wouldn't trade 'em. They may be the most, in a certain way, the most valuable five years of my early formative life, because of the experiences I had and the perspective that I was able to gain, and the people that I was able to meet. 

I mean, I was surrounded by the people that were the best at what they did, and I was surrounded by people who just had, compared to me, tons of money.  And whenever they said, "Hey, hey, Rush, we're heading out to Aspen. You want to go?" "I'm sorry, I can't make it. I'm really tied up."  I couldn't afford it. I couldn't go.  But I couldn't say that.  It was valuable and worthwhile in I can't tell you how many ways.  And '83, the pine tar year for Brett was my last year.  And it just takes me back to some of the memories that I had there, but the whole incident was just tremendous. 

It's great that George is known for it in the way he handled it then and has handled it now. But I'll never forget, 1980, that year where he almost hit .400, and the whole town of Kansas City was totally absorbed in George Brett's quest.  And the thing about George, it never affected him, I mean, in terms of conceit or arrogance. If you met him then or if you met him now he would be exactly the kind of guy that you would hope that he would be. 

Snerdley is asking me if all these guys in baseball were -- they still are shocked.  (laughing) Snerdley was asking if they were surprised when -- I mean, they knew me as the front office grunt that came down and bugged 'em for autographs for sponsors, and I was the joke. I was the guy that had to escort Marilyn Maye one day when she could barely walk out to second base to sing the national anthem during a playoff game. And I'm walking off the field with her on my arm, and the fans in the front row are making fun of me, they're jeering me. 

I've told you the incident where every baseball in the dugout was thrown out at me when I forgot a baseball for the first pitch one night.  So, yeah, I was a lovable doofus.  And so when the radio career started, they didn't believe it, nobody did.  The only thing they knew was that I liked to read newspapers and stuff outside the sports page.  But they thought that was weird.  I mean, even in the morning in the office, if somebody in management walked by, I'd have to fake reading the sports page.  "This is a baseball team. We don't care what happened in Israel today," or take your pick, Libya.  It wasn't quite that bad, but it's safe to say that they were all shocked, and many still are.  Don't believe it. (laughing) It's not just those guys.  My family, still some of them can't believe it, either.


RUSH:  My friends, I just got an e-mail during the break, and, you know, this could be a teachable moment if I do this right.  The e-mail is kind of long.  I'm not gonna read the whole thing to you.  But it's basically somebody who says that they watched the Pine Tar Game between the Royals and the Yankees and that they were embarrassed, and that George Brett looked like he was insane and a madman. It was horrible...

I'm summarizing, now. "It was horrible behavior for a role model for kids to argue with umpires like that and to get thrown out of the game and to get in the umpire's face. There was nothing cool about that," Rush, blah, blah, blah, blah.  I've got a different take on that.  I understand the role model business, but let me give you the other side of this.  Because there is one, and I think it's a teachable moment. I actually think it's applicable to a lot. 

Now, there's no way people would know this, but George Brett worked really hard.  He had natural talent, obviously.  George Brett was the first guy at the ballpark every afternoon for a night game. He'd show up at one o'clock or two o'clock for a seven o'clock start. He's out at batting practice, working on his hitting and everything.  I don't care, it could be 110 degrees on the field, and he was out there doing it. 

He worked extremely hard throughout his whole career.  He put a lot into it, and he valued what he did. The Yankees were, at that time, the hated rivals of the Kansas City Royals.  The Yankees deprived the Royals in the playoffs for three consecutive years. They'd deprived them of the championship in the playoffs -- '76, '77, and '78 -- and every year, the Royals came within one game of going to the World Series.

You add to it Goose Gossage, who was the pitcher during the Pine Tar Incident.

Goose Gossage, at the time, had the most feared fastball in Major League Baseball, among relievers.  George had pretty good success with Gossage.  In fact, Gossage has a restaurant in Colorado somewhere and Brett made up a replica of the pine tar bat, and it's on display in Gossage's restaurants.  Now, the way I look at this is, yeah, he went out there and got in the umpire's face and protested.

But George Brett put a lot of work into that home run, and that home run won the game. 

That home run, that hit was the result of a huge amount of work.  And it was an achievement and an accomplishment against one of the absolute best pitchers of the time.  That was an achievement and an accomplishment that somebody who really values their work just couldn't stand having it taken away, on an arbitrary enforcement of a rule that is never enforced on anyone else. 

Do you see where I'm going with this?  In a way, you could say that if more people valued their work -- if more people put in all kinds of efforts and valued the outcome of their work -- they'd be a little bit more upset when people start taking things away from 'em or when people start putting obstacles in front of them.  They wouldn't sit here and to put up with it! Now, on the other side of this, I know.

You've got the rules and you've got the authority figures, the umpires. It's like Stan Musial.  My father always used to tell me about Stan Musial, "Son, he never argued with the umpires."  That was a big deal to my dad.  That was tantamount to being the epitome of dignified and respectful.  My dad was a lawyer.  The judge was always right, and you couldn't argue with the judge.

When the judge ruled, that was it. You had to eat it, if it didn't go in your favor.  So, as a lawyer, authority figures were part and parcel of the gig.  The umpires to him were the same thing, and my dad... I'll never forget this.  It might have been Stan Musial's last game or it was one of his last games and we're listening on the radio. We're not there. We're listening to it on the radio, and it was reported that on a called strike, Musial argued with the umpire.

And it just devastated my dad, because it was the first time he had ever heard that about Musial in his 20-plus-year career.  In fact, I wasn't listening to it.  My dad was, and I came in and he told me about it and I can't tell you how disappointed my dad was, telling me that Musial argued with the umpire.  It's like he'd lost a little appreciation for him. I've never forgotten that. 

It was totally, for my dad, an integrity thing. 

I remember saying, "Dad, he just had to do it once in his career.  It's no big deal."  So I understand if you're talking the role model thing.  But I don't think that applies here at all.  I think that incident, the Pine Tar Incident was... If you view it from the standpoint that here's a guy who worked harder than anybody ever knew, other than his teammates, and Gossage was as tough an opponent as ever, and here's a game that is big...

It's July. It's the dog days of the season. You're not out of it yet, and that wins the game against the hated Yankees -- and Billy Martin! I mean, this would have to tick you off, Billy Martin running out there and whining and moaning to the umpires -- and the batboy supplied by the Yankees, who you like... Brett loved this little batboy. But he worked with the Yankees to make sure the bat was produced and so forth.

I can totally understand it, 'cause he valued that home run.  I'll tell you something else about Brett, and he'll never remember this. He won't remember this. It's probably gonna embarrass the heck out of him, and I don't intend it to do that. But there was a time... I worked there for five years, and I never made more than I think $16,000 a year there.  I literally never really had any money 'cause I owned a house I had no business owning.

The payment just ate up what is now called "cash flow."  I called it "money."  I didn't have any for at least two weeks of the month, more than that because the payment was more than one of the paychecks.  Anyway, there was something that came up that, to me, was important. It wasn't a lot of money. It was like four or five hundred dollars, and I sheepishly asked George if he would loan it to me, and without thinking, he said "Sure." 

That was it. 

But that's not the story.  The story is that some years later, when I was able to, I paid him back.  And the story is, he let me.  I mean, he accepted it, rather than saying, "No, keep it! I don't need it. It wasn't that much money." He took it, and that squared it.  That eliminated any kind of a potential pressure point.  It was only 400 bucks, which was big money to me, but he took it. 

And you could make the argument like liberals do, "Ah, he didn't need it! Why did he take that money?" I agreed to pay it back.  He took it, and I'm forever glad that he did.  Because you know how it is, loans and friends and this kind of thing.  It woulda never become that anyway, but it was just something I thought was big of him to do on both sides.  I really do. 



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