1984 Fleer <a rel=A picture may be worth a thousand words, but it can also be misleading. Case in point — when savvy fans pulled this George Brett baseball card from packs of 1984 Fleer that spring, we knew we were being bamboozled.

Decades later, you might look at this cheery photo and conclude that Brett and his father or coach are getting ready to lace up the cleats and head into the sun of a Florida Spring Training session.

You might only realize that something is amiss if you read the fine print at the bottom of the card …

The Pine Tar Incident, 7/24/83

George Brett had always been somewhat of a colorful character in the baseball firmament.

He was the fiery young superstar who had led the Kansas City Royals from expansion obscurity to the brink of a World Championship in 1980 and perennial contender status.

Along the way, he had almost become the first player since Ted Williams in 1941 to bat .400 over the course of a full season. His .390 average in 1980 was good enough for him to cop the AL MVP award in 1980 even though he played just 117 games.

Heck, even in infamy, Brett scored. When he removed himself from Game 2 of the 1980 World Series because of hemorrhoid pain (and subsequent surgery), he became the *ahem* butt of jokes around the game.

Brett managed to parlay that incident into a few jokes of his own and an endorsement deal with Preparation H.

But it was one at-bat — and its aftermath — on July 24, 1983, that fully established the George Brett baseball persona. In the course of about two minutes, Brett was transformed from hero to villain to maniac.

In case you haven’t heard the news, here is the story courtesy of that 1984 Fleer card (#638) titled Brett & Perry — The Pine Tar Incident, 7/24/83:1984 Fleer George Brett and Gaylord Perry Pine Tar Incident (#638) back

The July 24, 1983 game in Yankee Stadium between the Yankees and the K. C. Royals will be long remembered by big league fans. It was the top of the 9th with 2 outs. George Brett smashed the ball for a home run. The Yankees asked the umpire to determine if there was too much pine tar on the bat. After measuring the bat across home plate, the umpire ruled that Brett was out because the pine tar extended too high on the bat. Since it was the last out of the inning, the Yankees won. Kansas City appealed the decision to the AL President, Lee MacPhail, who reversed the umpire’s decision, giving credit to Brett’s homer and ordering that the game be resumed at a later date, which the Royals won. Gaylord Perry, who tried to hide the bat from American League officials, was fined along with Brett, Coach Rocky Colavito and Manager Dick Howser for their parts in disputing the umpire’s decision.

The Rest of the Story

That account is accurate as far as it goes, but it glosses over some of the most important details of the incident.

For starters, it was Goose Gossage off whom Brett swatted his potential game-winning home run. There was no love lost between the two stars who seemed to face off every October in the AL playoffs.

And saying “the Yankees” asked umps to examine Brett’s bat is not quite accurate, either. New York manager Billy Martin had noticed weeks before that Brett slathered his lumber with copious amounts of pine tar and thought Brett might be in violation of league rules. Rather than call him out on the spot, though, Martin slid the pine tar card up his sleeve to be played at the most advantageous moment.

But the real gloss job on Fleer’s tribute card comes in that last line:

Gaylord Perry, who tried to hide the bat from American League officials, was fined along with Brett, Coach Rocky Colavito and Manager Dick Howser for their parts in disputing the umpire’s decision.

The “dispute” consisted of a benches-clearing scuffle led by a charging, screaming, arms-flailing lunatic of a man named George Brett. He lost his mind when the umpire took away his homer and instantly became baseball’s most recognizable hothead.

As Fleer notes, the ruling was overturned, and the teams resumed their game from the point of Brett’s home run.

Nearly a month after the Pine Tar Incident, the Royals won the game, 5-4, with Brett enjoying a meal miles away from Yankee Stadium.

The whole bizarre spectacle dominated baseball headlines and labeled Brett as a firebrand with a competitive zeal that bordered on fanaticism.

So who was 1984 Star Company George Brett Pine Tar Gamethis smiling charlatan that Fleer presented us in 1984? It smacked of false advertising and, somehow, still does.

Could Brett have been pulling our collective leg all these years about how upset he really got?

Nah! Dude is intense.

Bonus! 1984 Star Company George Brett

The Pine Tar Incident was such a big deal in 1983 and 1984, that Fleer wasn’t the only company to commemorate the occasion on pasteboard.

During the middle 1980s, Star Company caught collectors’ attention by issuing a series of single-player sets, similar in concept to the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams issue. Reaction in the hobby was mixed, but Star did add variety to the landscape, and their sets were must-have for individual player collections.

Not surprisingly, George Brett was one of the first players to get the Star treatment, and his 24-card set from 1984 featured another “tribute” to the famed Pine Tar Game (card #20).

Here is Star’s take on the incident:

On July 24, 1983 at Yankee Stadium, George Brett struck the now famous Pine Tar Home Run off Yankee reliever Rich Gossage. With 2 out in the 9th inning, the Royals trailed 4-3. U.L. Washington was on base via a single, when George Brett slammed a 2-run homer which appeared to give the Royals a 9th inning 1-run lead. The Yankees protested George’s homer on the grounds that the pine tar used on the bat was illegally spread too far up the bat barrel. The umpire agreed and George’s home run was disallowed. The Royals appealed this decision and won based on the ruling that the bat should have been removed from the game, but the home run should stand. The Royals (sic) final out and the Yankee’s half of the inning was completed on August 18, 1983.1984 Star Company George Brett Pine Tar Game (back)

More complete than Fleer’s description in some respects, less complete in others.

But neither card, front or back, fully captures the fire that was George Brett on that fateful moment more than 30 years ago when his home run was stolen away.

The man snapped and cemented his image on the game he loves for all time.

 

 

 

 

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