A new book, misleadingly titled The Pine Tar Game, thankfully examines a much broader scope than the infamous 1983 Royals vs. Yankees game. I might have suggested the title The Pine Tar Rivalry since the book really takes a broad view of Royals and Yankees history, including the four playoff meetings of the teams between 1976—80, the contrasting personalities of George Steinbrenner and Ewing Kauffman, and the changes in baseball that contributed to the rivalry fizzling out. The pine tar game does indeed get the most attention, but is the direct focus of just six of the book’s 24 chapters. This was a pleasant surprise for me, as I doubted how interesting a book-length treatment on the one game could be.
While I’ve heard many of the stories related in the book, author Filip Bondy brings a richer understanding to this particular thread of Royals history. He also introduces plenty of new information for my Royals-addicted brain to feed on, such as a particularly enjoyable chapter on the details of David Cone’s upbringing in Kansas City as a die-hard Royals fan who can’t believe his luck to get to pitch for them…until they make a massive mistake in trading him. Twice. Another chapter tells of Rush Limbaugh’s time as a Royals employee. Sometimes Bondy’s scope gets a little too wide, such as a passage relating some KC Monarchs history. That’s one of my favorite topics, but I wasn’t sure what the connection was to this particular book.
While I’ve almost grown tired of seeing the brief clip of George Brett’s famous pine tar game freak out over and over, it was fun to read the more complex tale of that crazy game told in as much detail as anyone probably needs. Don Zimmer’s role as a Yankees coach, Dean Taylor as the Royals “rules nerd” helping draft the team’s protest, the Yankees going through the courts to try to block the three weeks later resumption of the ninth inning, and the umpire’s reactions to Brett the next time they saw him on the field are a few examples of the fresh (to me) details Bondy uncovered. It’s a fun, easy read, recommended to all Royals fans.