By Tony Shupenko
There aren’t many similarities in which you can compare Marv Throneberry and George Brett. You can say both were baseball players who played for teams in Kansas City and both players signed endorsement contracts with Hillerich & Bradsby. However, other than that, there isn’t much more that links these two players.
One amassed over 3,000 hits, 3 batting titles, and an MVP award. The other played for the inaugural 1962 Mets team that lost 120 games, did beer commercials later in life with Billy Martin and Bob Uecker, and at one-point columnist Jimmy Breslin quipped that having Marv Throneberry play for your team is like having Willie Sutton work for your bank.
There is one thing, though, that forever links George Brett and Marv Throneberry: the two players used the same Louisville Slugger baseball bat model - the T85. The T85 model was originally made for Marv Throneberry (hence the bat model beginning with “T” for Throneberry) back on June 21st, 1956 by Hillerich & Bradsby.
For much of Marv’s career, he was a role player - coming into a game’s later innings. Between 1955 and 1961 the most games Marv appeared in a season was 104 during his 1960 season with the Kansas City Athletics. In those 104 games, he only had 260 plate appearances in which he batted .250 with 11 home runs and 41 RBI. Those are respectable numbers given his limited amount of at-bats. Marv started the 1962 season with the Baltimore Orioles in which he played in 9 of the team’s first 17 games before he was traded to the New York Mets where he would appear in 116 games, batting a .244 average, hit 16 homers and drive in 49.
The 1962 Mets team, with a record of 40 wins and 120 losses, was full of players at the end of their careers such as Gil Hodges, Richie Ashburn, Roger Craig, and Don Zimmer, who batted .077 the first month before being traded. Then there was Marvelous Marv Throneberry, a nickname given to him by Mets fans. Marv was born to be a Met. Even the initials of his full name, Marv Eugene Throneberry, turned out to be MET.
On the field, Marv was very unsure at first base, committing 17 errors. On June 17th Marv infamously hit a triple against the Cubs, however, the umpire called Marv out for not touching 2nd base. When manager Casey Stengel came out to argue the call the umpire said, “I hate to tell you this Casey, but he missed 1st base too”. The next batter Charlie Neal hit a home run and Marv’s blunder cost the Mets the game as the Cubs beat them 8-7.
Throneberry maintained a sense of humor about his play and became a favorite with fans. At one point he had a fan club that had about 5,000 members. They wore shirts with the word "VRAM" (Marv backward) and would chant "Cranberry, Strawberry, we love Throneberry" during games.
Then there is George Brett, who is widely considered as one of the greatest third basemen. His resume includes 3 batting titles, an MVP award, a World Series ring, 13x All-Star, 3x Silver Slugger, and National Baseball Hall of Fame member.
The interesting thing to learn is George was helped by Marv, as Brett used the T85 model during his career. This was the same model that was custom made for Throneberry almost 20 years before Brett’s first big league game.
Arguably, July 24th, 1983 was the most famous at-bat in George Brett’s career and it isn’t a stretch to say the most famous at-bat for Marv’s T85 model. Brett’s Royals were in New York to take on the Yankees. With the Royals trailing 4-3, George Brett came to bat in the top of the 9th inning with 2 outs, a runner on base, and Goose Gossage pitching for the Yankees. Brett ended up hitting a two-run homer off Gossage to give the Royals a 5-4 lead, or so we thought. As Brett circled the bases Billy Martin popped out of the dugout calling for Brett's bat to be inspected by the umpires. He contested that Brett exceeded the amount of pine tar on the bat. The umpires ruled that the amount of pine tar on the bat exceeded the amount allowed by rule. This call nullified Brett's home run and resulted in an out. Brett was the third and final out of the game, giving the Yankees a 4-3 win.
What made this call even more remembered was George Brett running out of the dugout raving mad to argue with the umpires. Brett was hot and had to be restrained by coaches and teammates from making any kind of physical contact with the umpires. The Royals protested the game. Four days later, American League president Lee MacPhail upheld the Royals' protest. MacPhail noted that the "spirit of the restriction" for pine tar on bats was based not on the fear of unfair advantage, but simple economics; any contact with pine tar would discolor the ball, render it unsuitable for play, and require that it be discarded and replaced—thus increasing the home team's cost of supplying balls. MacPhail ruled that Brett had not violated the spirit of the rules nor deliberately "altered [the bat] to improve the distance factor".
The game resumed 25 days later to finish the 9th inning. George Frazier struck out Hal McRae to end the top of the 9th. The bottom of the 9th was uneventful with Dan Quisenberry pitching a 1-2-3 inning to end the game that started 3 weeks earlier.
The pine tar bat is on display at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, where it has been since 1987. On May 5, 2012, Royals fans were treated to a Louisville Slugger replica designed to like the infamous pine tar bat. This "Pine Tar Special" at Kauffman Stadium coincided with a game against the Yankees.
At Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory you can take a tour of our hollowed Bat Vault and learn more about the famous Marv Throneberry T85 model and bat models from other heroes of the game. Also on display in our museum is a bat used by George Brett with a good amount of pine tar on the handle. Although not THE pine tar bat, you can’t help but think about that infamous home run that Brett hit in 1983.