THE PINE TAR GAME by Filip Bondy


The Kansas City Royals, the New York Yankees, and Baseball's Most Absurd and Entertaining Controversy
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New York Daily News sports columnist Bondy (Who's on Worst?: The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes in Baseball History, 2013, etc.) builds an entire book around one controversial play during a game between the New York Yankees and Kansas City Royals on July 24, 1983.

On that play, Royals superstar George Brett hit a home run to put his team ahead in the ninth inning. But the Yankees protested the home run, citing an obscure rule that Brett had placed more pine tar on the handle of his bat than the rules allowed. The umpires upheld the protest and awarded the victory to the Yankees, enraging Brett and the Royals. The unusual ruling made the game briefly newsworthy, and the chief reason the game sticks in the minds of baseball fans (especially those watching the game) is Brett's reaction. A highly competitive but otherwise normally polite man, he raced from the dugout with the apparent intent of attacking the umpires. One of those umpires put a headlock on Brett, releasing him only after his teammates promised to wrestle him back to the dugout. Brett's outrage was caught on tape, and since that day 30 years ago, it has been replayed countless times. Bondy's book might be difficult to fully appreciate unless readers have watched the video, since mere words cannot fully capture the extreme reaction. But the author masterfully offers context and a history of the Yankees-Royals’ complicated sports rivalry, presents minibiographies of chief participants, explains the appeal by the Royals, which was upheld by the commissioner of Major League Baseball, and provides a discussion of the aftermath of the momentous ruling.

In terms of overarching significance, this is a slight book. It's worthy, however, for devoted professional baseball fans and for its artfulness in creating a narrative focused primarily on just one pitch—like that achieved by Mike Sowell in The Pitch that Killed (1989).

Pub Date: July 21st, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-4767-7717-7
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Scribner
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2015


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