Saturday, July 18, 2015

Review of "The Pine Tar Game"

Baseball fans like me who are old enough to remember this game will never forget the image of George Brett charging out of the dugout after he was called out for having too much pine tar on his bat in a 1983 game.  It has been remembered as "The Pine Tar Game" and when I saw that a book was written by an author whose work I enjoy, I eagerly awaited it.  Then when I saw that advance review copies were being offered and my request for one was granted, I was even MORE excited.  I wasn't disappointed as this was as entertaining as that day 32 years ago. Here is my review of Filip Bondy's book on that game.

“The Pine Tar Game: The Kansas City Royals, the New York Yankees and Baseball’s Most Absurd and Entertaining Controversy” By Filip Bondy

Baseball, history, Royals, Yankees, humor

Publish date:
July 21, 2015

256 pages

4 of 5 stars (very good)

The image is an iconic one in baseball lore. George Brett hits a two-run homer to put his Kansas City Royals ahead of the New York Yankees 5-4 in the ninth inning on July 24, 1983. Yankee manager Billy Martin wants home plate umpire Tim McClelland to measure the pine tar on Brett’s bat, claiming that it extends past the 18 inches allowed by an obscure rule.  Lacking a ruler to measure the offending substance, McClelland lays the bat across the 17-inch wide home plate, sees that the pine tar does indeed extend much farther than that width and calls Brett out. Brett then charges out of the dugout with anger, being restrained by another umpire. 

That moment when Brett was ready to attack the umpire crew has made what would have been another ordinary baseball game a memorable moment. Author Filip Bondy was able to take that moment and craft a decent full length book around it by sharing not only the events of that day, but the background of both teams and their owners, Ewing Kaufman of the Royals and George Steinbrenner of the Yankees. Add in recollections by other players that day and the almost comical attempts by the Yankees to not complete the game after the American League office upheld the Kansas City protest of the call and an entertaining book is produced. 

There is a lot of text that isn’t about the game, as you might expect. In addition to the history and biographies mentioned before, there is a good accounting of how the two teams built a bitter rivalry in the seven seasons before this game.  From 1976 to 1980, the Royals and Yankees met in the American League Championship series four times, and to say this was a rivalry with some bad blood would be an understatement.  So when they met in this mid-season game in 1983, it was understandable why there was still some tension even though neither team was a contender that season. It sets the stage for the actual game, which Bondy recalls with excellent detail, especially the home run and the madness that ensued.

Bondy doesn’t stop there, however, as his narrative of the events that took place after the game is easily the best part of the book. He covers everything from the overruling of the call by American League President Lee McPhail, the Royals’ glee at the decision and the many attempts by the Yankees to not complete the game. He writes about one maneuver by the Yankees with the humor it deserves. The Yankees asked a local court to order that the game not be resumed on August 18, 1983 for the safety of the fans.  Their argument was that because so many were angered by the decision to allow the home run to stand that there would be rioters at Yankee Stadium. With less than 2,000 fans showing up to attend the completion, which consisted of four outs and took about ten minutes, it was a comical move and Bondy treats it as such.

While I felt that there was much more written about the teams and owners than was needed to set the scene, it was interesting to read about Ewing Kaufman in such a manner.  I also felt that since Bondy is a New York writer, this book would be much more about the Yankees than the Royals, but that was not the case. He gave each team about equal space and wrote about both of them fairly without coming across as biased. This book will make a very good addition to anyone’s library on the game as it recaps a wacky moment in baseball history.

I wish to thank NetGalley for providing a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

Pace of the book:
This was a fast read as the stories for both franchises flowed easily from chapter to chapter and were woven together quite well.  The reader never will feel that this book is choppy or skips around.

Do I recommend? 
Baseball fans who remember this event will enjoy this book for not only the game, but the stories about the two teams and the main people involved. Others who are not familiar with this story will also enjoy learning a little bit of baseball history that took a strange turn.

Book Format Read:
E-Book (Kindle)

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