I can tell you right off the bat that if you aren’t interested in baseball, you can safely stop reading this review, as there’s little chance you’ll like “The Pine Tar Game.” Of course, most people who aren’t interested in baseball won’t even pick up a book with a baseball bat on the cover in the first place unless the bat has blood on it and there’s a swirly red title that reads “Take Me Out at the Ballgame” or something in that murder mystery vein.
“Pine Tar” is a sports book through and through. Also, if you are interested and don’t know what the Pine Tar incident was, look it up. You’ll know you found it when you see George Brett storm the field in a frothing rage.
“The Pine Tar Game” was written by long-time sports columnist Filip Bondy, who also wrote the pleasantly entertaining “Who’s On Worst? The Lousiest Players, Biggest Cheaters, Saddest Goats and Other Antiheroes in Baseball History.” If nothing else, Bondy certainly has an affection for long subtitles. As someone who already liked a previous book of his, I went into “Pine Tar” with decently high expectations.
At its core, “Pine Tar” is a story about the long past rivalry between the Kansas City Royals and New York Yankees. The clubs are compared and contrasted in interesting
ways as Bondy builds up the cast of characters that will ultimately be involved in the infamous Pine Tar Game and its aftermath.
Each chapter focuses on a specific character or event that would have a hand in the climax of the book. There’s a chapter on Ewing Kauffman, George Steinbrenner, George Brett, Billy Martin and more. Even Rush Limbaugh has a chapter about him as he was a front office worker for the Royals during the period discussed.
Relationships are explained. Pasts are examined. At every opportunity Bondy points out the sharp contrasts between the alcohol- fueled, frantic, feuding, money-soaked machine that was the Yankees at the time, and relatively placid, family- friendly, skin-flint organization that was the Royals.
Bondy does all this to demonstrate a tension that built between these characters over years, a tension that exploded on July 24, 1983, in the Bronx.
Steinbrenner and Martin were constantly fighting, leading to a continual cycle of Steinbrenner firing Martin then rehiring him shortly thereafter (he was on his 3rd tenure with the Yankees on that day).
George Brett was still feeling competitive pressure from a father who always sold him short and wasn’t even impressed at his .400 batting average, predicting he’d choke and lose it. Royals fans were feeling frustrated at constantly losing to the Yankees in key playoff games. This build up is very entertaining and really gets the book going at a good pace.
There was one chapter in the book that I didn’t feel really needed to be there. It was about David Cone who was traded by the Royals to the Yankees after an injury.
He was injured during the Pine Tar incident though and his story has very little intertwining with the rest of the stories in the book. It felt more like padding than anything else.
Minor annoyance aside, I would recommend this book to all Royals fans. Kansas City teams are often overlooked by major media and publications.
Heck, somehow when the Royals won the World Series 4-1 in 2015, the major media still seemed the think the Mets were the main story. Looking at you, Joe Buck.
Bondy, however, does not short change the Royals in this book. Both teams are given equal consideration throughout, and that’s a breath of fresh air.
Other than that, this book is good for anyone who likes stories of big personalities colliding and is okay with the baseball setting.
Aaron Pauls is a customer satisfaction manager at Engrain LLC in Manhattan.