George Brett, Pine Tar Incident, and Self-Restraint

Recently, I re-watched the ending to the July 24, 1983 “Pine Tar Incident” game between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees.  I remember watching this game live on TV as a teenager.  It was the top-of-the ninth inning.  There were two outs and U.L. Washington was on first base for the Kansas City Royals.  The Yankees were leading 4 to 3 when the Hall-of-Fame player George Brett steps up to bat.  Brett hits a home run to give the Royals a 5 to 4 lead.  Then, the Yankee’s manager, Billy Martin, comes out of the dugout, approaches the umpire, and questions the amount of pine tar on Brett’s bat.  The umpire examined the bat, consulted the other umpires, and calls George Brett out to end the game.  George Brett leaps from the dugout in a rage at the umpire.  Benches are cleared, tempers explode, and a fierce argument ensues among coaches, players, and umpires.  If you are not familiar with this historic Major League Baseball event, it is worth watching and reading the Wikipedia page if you are a baseball fan.

In this scene, George Brett embodies the internal rage on an impulsive reaction; a sudden strong and unreflective urge or desire to do or say something.  We have all been down the road of impulsive reactions.  We are triggered by some event that heightens our emotional condition causing us to react.  As we know, this may cause relational damage and hinder us from achieving our desired outcomes.

As inspirational influencers, one skill is the ability to pause and demonstrate self-restraint.  I would like to offer three ways to improve self-restraint.  These three skills are story discernment, driver awareness, and choice clarity.

Story Discernment

Story discernment is the ability to accurately assess the stories we tell ourselves (truth or fiction).  I can only guess what went through George Brett’s mind when he was called out.

“What the _______?  That’s not right!”

“Billy Martin is out to get me!”

“That umpire is _______ crazy!”

Think about a time when you had a heightened emotional reaction.  What was going through your mind?  Were these thoughts true or made up?  When I pause and consider my thoughts, I can make up a lot of stuff.  Checking our stories is one way to have self-restraint.

Driver Awareness

Connected to the stories we tell ourselves is awareness of the drivers that cause heightened emotions. Driver awareness is the ability to identify the triggers or circumstances that may cause an impulsive reaction.  Some of these drivers include threats, strong values, fatigue, past experiences, or personality differences.  What was driving Brett’s angry reaction?  Could it be a strong value or the feeling of being threatened or diminished?  Only George Brett could answer these questions.

Again, think about a time when you had a heightened emotional reaction.  What were your drivers?

Choice Clarity

The third skill is choice clarity.  Choice clarity is the ability to see a situation from multiple perspectives and choose the optimal one.  Let us consider other choices Brett could have made.

  • He could have picked up a bat and threw it at the umpire.
  • He could have left the stadium and consider possible options later with the manager.
  • He could have calmly approached the umpire and asked questions.

There are many choices.  However, the key is to pause long enough to consider several choices and pick the one that gets the best results.

Consider your own situation where it would be helpful to think about several options before impulsively reacting.  What are your different possible choices?  What possible outcomes might happen for each choice?

The “Pine Tar” game was protested through the appropriate league channels.  The call was overturned, and the game was completed 23 days later on August 18, 1983.  The Royals won.  This victory and the Yankees loss did nothing for either team because they were both out of the play-off run.  George Brett’s fit of rage makes a great story and shows our human nature and the intensity of sports.  Yet, his impulsive actions did nothing to impact the win.  Self-restraint will have longer term benefits to the desired outcomes of a situation.

How might self-restraint in the small and big moments be beneficial to others and yourself?