Tarred and batted

Tar hasn't gotten this much attention since the colonists mixed it with feathers for ceremonial purposes. The tar being batted around now is on George Brett's baseball bat - too much of it, the umpires said. They took away his home run and awarded the game to his opponents. And that, presumably, settled it.

Only it didn't. Everybody appealed everything, baseball being as litigious as the rest of American society.

Now along comes the president of the American League, who overrules the umpires who almost always have the last say. The punishment, he said, didn't fit the crime, and the home run is a home run. Does that settle it?

Don't be silly: it unsettles it, perhaps permanently. Right now the game (which was played July 24 between the Kansas City Royals and the New York Yankees) officially is still underway, with the outcome in doubt. Maybe they'll finish it sometime this year, and maybe they won't. It may depend on whether it matters. If the game's final result will affect either of the league's pennant races, they'll definitely finish, the baseball moguls promise.

But if not, they might not. At first thought that would seem inconceivable - a game without a victor, a contest without a vanquished. Americans play sports with the grim determination of the man-against-beast festivities in the Roman Coliseum.

Yet elsewhere in American society there's a peculiar tradition of keeping things unfinished, from reforms to construction projects.

Like the Pittsburgh bridge in the 1960s that hung two-thirds of the way across the Allegheny River for so long they had to repave it before cars ever got to use it.

Who knows - the unfinished nature of this game may even become historically famous, a kind of Unfinished Symphony for the bleachers' faithful.

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