It’s a classic scene. George Brett is in the dugout telling teammates that he’s going to go ballistic if the umpires do anything after his two-run homer off Goose Gossage that gave Kansas City a 5-4 ninth-inning lead over the New York Yankees.
Yankees manager Billy Martin had been saving up for the moment. Somebody in the New York dugout had noticed that Brett’s bat had pine tar above the mark that league rules would permit. Martin was waiting for a moment when Brett would get a big hit before raising issue with the bat, and his argument was going to be that the bat was illegal, and that as a result whatever big hit had resulted with its use would have to be disallowed.
The crew ended up agreeing with Martin, and called Brett out, sending him into several spasms that we’re used to seeing whenever a broadcaster digs it out of the archives for another airing.
You might remember the rest of the story. Turns out that while the rule about pine tar on a bat was clearly on the books, it wasn’t of the nature that it was considered to give a hitter any sense of a competitive advantage. The rule had been suggested and adopted because owners thought excessive pine tar on a bat didn’t make for good visuals, and more importantly because the pine tar muddied up baseballs on contact, necessitating the use of more baseballs, which of course cost owners money.
First thought about an intellectual effort to link George Brett and the Pine Tar Incident and Tom Brady and Deflate-gate is that the level of inflation of a football is of dubious correlation to the end of trying to achieve any kind of competitive advantage, any more than pine tar above a certain part of a bat gives a hitter an advantage.
No question that Brady or any other quarterback seeking to have the inflation level of the footballs that they use in a game situation adjusted to their liking are looking for something in particular. Anybody who has tossed a football in the backyard knows that the better the grip you can get on the ball, the better you can throw it, in terms of distance, accuracy, spin, the rest.
Take some of the air out of the ball, and you’re going to get a better feel, clearly, obviously. Same as having pine tar on a baseball bat. Also clearly, obviously.
The NFL is going to have a hard time throwing the book at Brady considering that the league gave carte blanche to quarterbacks in 2006, at the behest of Brady and Peyton Manning, to let teams provide the balls to be used on offense to game officials.
The tweak gave QBs from visiting teams the ability to provide their own footballs; prior to 2006, the home team supplied the footballs to be used by both teams.
Brady, in making his case to the league’s Competition Committee, summed things up thusly:
“The thing is, every quarterback likes it a little bit different,” Brady said in 2006. “Some like them blown up a little bit more, some like them a little more thin, some like them a little more new, some like them really broken in.”
The precedent was set. The league gave QBs the chance to play with footballs that were done up to their liking, which makes a lot of sense, from a business perspective. Brand-new footballs, slick out of the box, pumped up to optimum levels, are not optimal for use in game situations, and are thus not conducive to modern TV football, which didn’t become America’s Pastime in the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust era that saw quarterbacks completing 50 percent of their passes, but grew because guys like Brady and Manning started putting up video-game numbers.
Did Brady go too far? Even that is at question, considering how many former quarterbacks came out in the days after Deflategate first surfaced with their own stories of how they had personnel adjust the inflation level of their gameday footballs.
It’s hard to say that Brady gained any more competitive advantage than any of those former quarterbacks, any current-day quarterbacks who have had their guys adjust their footballs, and haven’t yet gotten caught doing it.
Or that he gained any more advantage than George Brett did having an extra gob of pine tar on his bat in Yankee Stadium.
It’s hard to justify even fining Brady, in the final accounting, much less suspending him, though it’s likely that a big fine and some sort of game suspension will be coming down.
There was a much different resolution to the Pine Tar Incident. On appeal, the American League overruled the game-day umpires, whose move to call Brett out had pushed the Yanks to a 4-3 win over the Royals, ordering the game to be replayed from the moment that Brett’s home run had been taken off the books.
The Royals won, 5-4, weeks later.
– Column by Chris Graham