It was 18 years ago this spring that the Yankees got rid of Billy Martin. He was a bad influence, they said. Nobody saw him land a punch at the Copacabana nightclub when a bunch of his teammates got involved in a scrap with some fellows celebrating the end of their bowling season, but it was Martin's birthday party, and since he had a record for brawling, much of the blame landed on him. Then, the next month, he was in the middle of a big scuffle with the White Sox at Comiskey Park, and was thrown out of the game. Three days later the Yankees sent him to Kansas City for Harry (Suitcase) Simpson. In the clubhouse Mickey Mantle cried. Casey Stengel told Martin, "Well, you're gone. You're the smartest little player I ever had."
In the cheerless cavalcade of the playing career that followed, Martin lasted no more than one season with any team: Detroit after K.C., then Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Minnesota. The late Jimmy Cannon wrote the foam about Martin that all the baseball people blew off their beers: "Now to Cincinnati in another league. And Billy Martin is positive he has come home at last. He always is."
A few years later, when Martin got a chance to manage, he won a division championship for the Twins and was fired, all in his first season. He won a division title with Detroit, but couldn't last out another year. Then Texas. He was Manager of the Year last season. This is his second full season with the Rangers. "It's been a truthful relationship here with everybody," says Martin, a man who prizes truth. "I have a real foundation here. I think I'll stay here for the rest of my career." So now Texas. And Billy Martin is positive he has come home at last. He always is.
The problem is not just that Billy Martin gets in fights and becomes a pugnacious embarrassment for more civil men. Were he merely truculent he would have long since been cut loose from baseball. The problem is that he is a terribly complicated personality—not necessarily sophisticated-complicated, more ironic-complicated. He is a kind of Sir Walter Scott knight errant cast loose into this strange modern world of compromise and convention, where duels are frowned upon and damsels in distress can be put on waivers. Despite all the Donny-brooks, Martin is a man of sweet sentimentality. He believes in absolutes—some might say simplicities—and he is nurtured by the fundamentals of chivalry, which he introduces into conversation as readily as he might order breakfast or argue with an umpire. Words such as loyalty, honor, truth, love, belief and pride surface regularly; and in his universe, where such absolutes rigorously figure, we should not be surprised that Martin also finds liars, back stabbers, cowards, bullies and other blackguards lurking about, anxious to do him in. When in fact they do cross him, he does the only thing left for him to do in his well-defined world, which is to pop them in the chops or, where bosses are involved, to supply the lexical equivalent. Frank Lane, a man never known for being demure, admits that Martin is in a league all his own. "When I've talked like he does," Lane says, "I've always made sure I was talking on a five-year or seven-year contract."
June 1, 1975
Yet Martin also possesses powerful qualities of organization, inspiration, evaluation and attention to detail that make him nearly peerless among managers. Counting a minor-league season managing Denver in 1968, he has taken four teams with losing records and turned them instantly into winners. This bespeaks more than a touch of genius. Since his abrasiveness draws attention, he also sells tickets, which managers and coaches almost never do, whatever the sport. The enraged citizenry of the Twin Cities and Detroit responded with classic organized American hysteria to his firings—printing up buttons and bumper stickers and indignantly registering their opinions on radio call-in shows. So we can be sure there will always be a home for Billy Martin.
Wherever he goes, Martin wants things his way, and he is not bashful. While it is politic for most baseball managers to utter platitudes about the managerial dependence upon the athletic talent at their disposal and to allow that they can really only do a little bit here and there—a suicide squeeze twice a season, that sort of thing—Martin believes that the manager should be the force about which the team revolves. Copernicus, you may recall, had similar public-relations difficulties with the Establishment over what revolves around what. "A manager can change the outcome in anywhere from 20 to 50 games," Martin proclaims heretically.
Twenty to 50? Why, you're talking about one out of almost every three games.
"Sure," says Martin. "That is, if he's the kind of guy I am, who handles everything himself. I'm not talking about the managers who just make out the lineup cards. I call everything myself. Infield in, halfway, back; all the pitchouts; whether to throw through or not. I call a lot of the pitches, too. There's someone out there looking at me before every pitch."
Charley Dressen failed to impress his players with a similar view of self-eminence: "Stay close, boys, and I'll think of something." But while Martin has quipped that the secret of his profession "is to keep the five players who hate you away from the four who are undecided," he has really been quite popular with his minions. What he did learn from studying Dressen—who once, furious and fully clothed, followed the naked Martin into a shower to get the last word—is that confidence need not be confused with majesty.
But if Martin picked up this or that from Dressen and some of the others he played for, Stengel, his patron, is the lone Influence. Indeed, on the days when a breeze blows, so that Martin's dark blue Ranger jacket billows in back above where he jabs his right hand into the rear pocket, a man can take off his glasses, and it seems once more that it is the bandy-legged old man going out to lift Lopat for Page, not merely his favorite protégé about to lift Bibby for Foucault. Lift: that is precisely the word. Any hired hand can change pitchers, replace them, signal to the bullpen; but a man does not truly become a manager until he can lift a pitcher. Billy Martin lifts pitchers.
He juggles lineups as well, promiscuously, if not capriciously. He gambles, always forcing the action (as he played). "The manager who runs scared usually gets beat," he declares. He much regrets that the American League permits the designated hitter because that makes managing easier, and with his confidence and skills Martin would rather have everybody in with him a little deeper.
Baseball intelligence seems to have infiltrated Martin by osmosis. When he was 15, 16 years old he was 5'5", 125, mostly ears and nose, playing sandlot ball in the off-season in Berkeley with major-leaguers. He roomed with Cookie Lavagetto while he was still in his teens. The first time Mantle saw Martin, The Kid was telling Frankie Crosetti, a sacred font of keystone wisdom, how it was you made the double play. From Stengel he may have most obtained the psychology of leadership.
"Stengel showed me how you don't even have to mention names to get discipline. That's good." Pause. "Stengel...." Martin puts the name off by itself, rolling it in pleasant reverie over the taste buds of the mind. "Yeah, there was this time he called a team meeting. 'Now, first, you lovers,' he began. 'You single guys who are out chasing something all night and you married guys who are telling the girls you're single.' We thought he was gonna stop there. But he went on. 'And you drinkers'—Case was getting some guys more than once—'I'm the only one who is gonna stay up all night drinking.' Everybody was sure he was through then, but he went on. 'And you churchgoers and milk-shake drinkers. Now, it's fine to have some of you guys on a team, but if you don't start showing me some guts out there, if you don't play hard enough for me, I'm going to make every one of you go out and get a double Scotch and a woman.' Oh, he got everybody that time, Casey did. He didn't mention a name, and he got the whole team."
At the batting cage Jim Fregosi, a Ranger infielder, says, "You know, one of the things Billy can do, he can get his point across without naming names. I remember one time last year some pitcher forgot to cover first base. The next day he had the whole staff out there covering first base for a half hour or more. Billy never said a word. I don't think anybody messed up on that the rest of the season."
Finally, although they largely go unnoticed, are Martin's tutorial achievements. In a way they gratify him the most. "When I was a kid," he says, "I never understood what teachers got out of it. But now I know. Why, to see somebody do something you showed them—that's a wonderful feeling. You feel better than if you had done it yourself."
And yet there is always a frenetic atmosphere attending Martin, so that his players must constantly remain at psychological battle stations. "The team was always so tense," said Coach Joe Schultz after Martin was axed at Detroit, "because we weren't sure what Billy was going to do next, personally or strategically." For one thing Martin usually fights a three-front war, battling his own front office while carrying on the traditional attack against other teams and The Men in Blue. The skids were greased for his firing at Minnesota after an argument over the farm system with a front-office subaltern named George Brophy. "If he'd been a younger guy, I'd have punched his lights out," Martin says now. He lets fly these declarations very casually, although one would never assume idly; he and the Twins' traveling secretary, Howard Fox, had already, in fact, exchanged punches in a hotel lobby one 4 a.m. Martin's end at Detroit came about strictly because of his policy disputes with General Manager Jim Campbell, who fired Martin despite advancing the opinion that "foul line to foul line" Billy had been exemplary.
It is not generally known, but Martin stood on the brink twice last year at Texas. In one instance he went to the front office and said that David Clyde, the local fireball sensation, should be sent out for seasoning. No doubt Martin was right; Clyde is in the middle minors now (SI, May 26) playing the title role in The Von McDaniel Story. But at that time Clyde was still attracting crowds, and the accountants hated to see him go. So Martin said well then, if Clyde doesn't get farmed out, I quit. The Rangers replied that they would be real sorry to see Billy leave. For once Martin backed down without resorting to either tongue or fists. But then, late in the season, in a perfectly asinine dispute over a players' wives' auxiliary Martin slapped Burt Hawkins, the team's traveling secretary, and his job was in serious jeopardy for a time.
Martin looks even more like a genuine desperado now, thanks to his big, looped mustache, which is certainly more appropriate than the pointed wise guy's face that he owned when he first came up and established his scrapper's reputation with a one-two knockdown of Jimmy Piersall. Before that, back in Berkeley, it had been Martin's jug ears and Naples nose, and the uncomplimentary remarks they occasioned, that had introduced him to fisticuffs. But now, helped by the mustache, he has settled into his looks, and it is neither his nose nor his ears, but his eyes—soulful and dark, brooding more than menacing—that hold one's attention.
The manager uses half glasses for reading, peering over them in a scholarly way, and he relaxes, if he can be said to relax, by drawing on those big U-shaped pipes that one associates with Swiss grandfathers. His desk is littered with pipe apparatus, and with tapes from his country-and-Western music collection, a taste he came to via Mantle. Martin was attracted to country songs by the lyrics—visceral, brutally hurting, soupy and troubled. I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry is his favorite.
Martin shares his office with Art Fowler, his pitching coach, who has been with him since the minor league year at Denver. The club was 8-22 when Martin arrived. Like King David sending Bathsheba's husband to battle, the Twins urged Martin to go out there in order to get rid of him; feeling guilty, a Twins' executive admitted this later in private. They figured Martin would louse up a bad team more, panic, get frustrated, get in trouble and give them an excuse to zap him. But Martin crossed up the organization by bringing the 8-22 team in 65-50 the rest of the way, and what could the Twins do but hire him? "He's so far ahead of everyone," Fowler says in his Carolina drawl. "And the only difference from Denver's he's got smarter."
Martin was saddled with a coach at Detroit he was convinced was ratting on him to the GM—never again. His four Ranger coaches are all his own men, each from a different phase of his life, so that together they know the whole man, but apart each coach knows only his share. It is Martin's wife Gretchen who says, "You see only a small portion of Billy. Of course, he must have designed it that way." Merrill Combs played with Martin in the minors 27 years ago; Charlie Silvera was with him on the Yanks; Fowler was Denver; and Frank Lucchesi was managing the Phillies and Martin the Tigers when they met. The four coaches span his career. There is a great constancy to Martin, and despite all the upheavals in his life he seems to have made each stop have some meaning. And always he keeps harking back to his childhood.
"You know, Billy," he was told the other day, "you ought to write a book."
"Someday I'm going to write a book about my childhood," he replied, although the subject of his youth had not been in the discussion.
That upbringing, despite a father's desertion and a Depression backdrop, was not really unhappy; there was much love for him and no real deprivation. He was born May 16, 1928 in the oldest house still standing in Berkeley; his mother lives there still. Eight months after his birth his father walked away. Mr. Martin is a Portuguese—Por-to-gee (hard g), Martin says—from the Hawaiian island of Maui. Martin's mother is Italian, and he refers to himself as a Dago, but Martin (Mar-teen in the Latin pronunciation) is indeed his real name. He was christened Alfred Manuel Martin, but was always Billy, which came from his grandmother calling him bello, cute in Italian.
Martin's mother married again, to an Irishman named Downey, but Billy lived next door with his grandmother Selvini, sleeping in the same bed with her until he was 15 and kicking so much they got him a cot. Mrs. Selvini died in 1946 when he was 18; she sang 'O Sole Mio! on her deathbed. The two major influences in the home in Billy's life were both female—grandmother and mother. As any knight would have, he felt very protective of them.
Martin can remember walking down the street with his mother when he was about 11 years old and flushing with anger when men turned to look her over or whistle. "Now you got to understand," he says, "my mother's only four-eleven, but she's the toughest little thing that ever walked. Oh, you'd like her. She's something. She was good and chesty and had one of those round little Dago heinies, and all that whistling was really embarrassing me. This is my mother. I wanted to fight these guys. She sensed that, and suddenly she turned to me and said, 'Listen, Billy, don't you ever forget that I got the best-looking fanny in town.' "
From his father, his disappearance notwithstanding, Martin seems to have obtained some other hard qualities. Martin is only 5'11", but his father is big, maybe 6'2", and Martin always heard that the Por-to-gee was the toughest son of a gun on Maui. But he never saw his old man until one day when he was 14, and his father showed up out of the blue, bringing him a pair of corduroy pants; then he popped up again four or five years later when Billy made the roster of the Triple A Oakland Oaks, and they had a long, even satisfying chat. His father materializes now and again in Oakland, and Martin seems to accept him without emotion one way or the other. The real father-son devotion in his life goes the other way, to his boy Billy Joe, age 10, on whom he lavishes his time and attention. "We do as much together as we can," he says. "I try to include Billy Joe in everything I can when we're home. We have some wonderful times." He pauses and looks away, actually beaming. "Oh, it's so exciting, that kind of love."
Exciting. When was the last time you heard anyone refer to that kind of love as exciting? The thing you must remember about Martin is that he is every bit as intense and compelling about the positive emotions in his life as he is about the negative. It is just that bopping people is what he does in the sector that is being recorded. And he is gloriously candid. Of Umpire Ron Luciano he recently declared, "I don't want him fined, I want him fired." When he beat up on Dave Boswell, one of his best pitchers at Minnesota, Martin graciously provided a full accounting: "He hit me in the temple and the ribs. I just held on, and then I started to hit him in the stomach. I worked up and hit him in the mouth, nose and eyes. He bounced off the wall, and I hit him again, and he was out cold before he hit the ground." But here, too, is the sort of thing Martin does: all of a sudden one day last winter he decided to write Stengel a thank-you note. "I just thought it would be nice to say something good," Martin says. "I just said that I was writing him to thank him for being a great manager and teaching me all the things he did."
Stengel, obviously, was something of a father figure for Martin, and not only because he managed him when he played for the Oakland Oaks and brought him to the majors. Stengel seemed to comprehend Martin, how to direct the furies within him. Once, when Martin was fuming about some slight, Stengel walked over, chucked him under the chin, and cooed, in baby talk: "Ith Li'l Bill-wee mad at naughty Ol' Case?" And yet as much as the two men came to prize one another—"That fresh punk, how I love him!" Casey once rhapsodized in a weak moment—Martin felt that Stengel failed to stand up for him following the Copacabana hassle, and after he was traded Martin literally did not say a word to Stengel for six years.
Martin was 29 when he was sent to K.C.—old enough, a man. But in context the Stengel rejection, coming as it did not long after Martin's first wife ditched him in extraordinary circumstances, really served to extend the pained adolescence of a sensitive, fatherless, unattractive boy—one who could succeed in sports and with his buddies but who could never find acceptance in the respectable grown-up world. Accounts of Martin's disputes with school officials (for fighting in basketball and baseball games) seem no different in substance from what we have 30 years later, Martin railing at Bowie Kuhn or general managers or umpires. We have often wondered what James Dean would have been like in middle age; well, Billy Martin is James Dean in middle age.
Significantly, the first decision Martin had to make in organized ball came on the day he signed with Oakland and they told him to give up his old street gang buddies. Flabbergasted, he refused. Martin is perfect for baseball because it is the belonging that counts so much, the camaraderie, the men in groups. The players who stay on in baseball as managers and coaches, even as broadcasters, are not necessarily the sagest; often they are not the type we expect, for we are looking for the wrong things in the career men. Instead, the only strain that runs through virtually all the oldtimers who stay in the game is that they can't get the club out of their systems.
The club—yessirreebob, baseball is still a club with a clubhouse. Football is not a club, or basketball or hockey; they are just teams with locker rooms. So, baseball coaches and managers individually may be smart or dumb, shy or ebullient, city or country, and now even black or white, but almost all will be marked by one trait—a love of that club. Characteristically, at each of his managerial layovers, the first thing Martin has done is to issue edicts more firmly establishing the sanctuary of the clubhouse. In a letter of some 20 paragraphs to the Rangers in advance of spring training this season only one regulation is underscored: "No one, and I mean no one, will be allowed in the clubhouse...."
In order to better remain a part of the club Martin has violated one of the hoariest of baseball traditions by making it his custom to drink with his players. Purists, appalled at this practice, could hardly wait to say I told you so when it was revealed that Martin and Boswell tangled after hoisting a few at the same bar. But alone is the worst part of being a manager, Martin says. He doesn't see why he can't have a pop now and then with the other guys on the club. "I've taken the manager off the pedestal and put the team on the pedestal," he says. "Why should the manager get the hotel bar and make 25 other guys go somewhere else? Besides, communication is the name of the game, and you get communication when you drink with someone. Don't give me that baloney about 'my door is always open' because the ones you have to communicate with won't care whether the door is open or closed. You've got to talk to these kids, learn their language. And if you can do that having a drink or two with them, so what? At Detroit I had a guy who needed five drinks. Five drinks, he was going to be MVP. He never was, that's for sure, but he was better for having five drinks with the manager."
Martin came up at a time when clubs were even closer and more homogeneous. There are more cliques now, the kids are better educated, have more money and thus are less intimidated. But a team is still a very exclusive club that comes together every day. The one word Martin uses to characterize the year he spent out of baseball—1970—is "lonely." Oh, sure he'd love to get out there and play again, but he was never all that good a player, and the belonging in baseball still means the most.
Martin's closest friend ever, he says, is Mantle, who now lives in Dallas, a vice-president of Reserve Life Insurance. "I was the happiest man in the world when Billy got the job down here," Mickey says, "because it gives me somebody to hang around with." And here is Mantle, who hit 536 home runs and made the Hall of Fame, on what he misses in baseball: "I miss the playing. I still dream of a comeback. I do. Almost every night I still play ball. When Aaron hit that home run last year, I just had goose pimples all over me. When he ran around those bases, I knew exactly how he felt. It almost felt like it was me." It was eight o'clock in the morning, seven years since he last played; Mantle stared out happily into the pale light over his backyard, savoring the old acclaim. "I miss the crowds applauding. I miss the big ovations," he said, smiling.
Billy Martin, who hit .257 lifetime, on the same subject: "What I miss when I'm away is the pride in baseball. Especially the pride of being on a team that wins. I probably was the proudest Yankee of them all. And I don't mean false pride. When it's real on a team, it's a deep love-pride. There's nothing greater in the world than when somebody on the team does something good, and everybody gathers around to pat him on the back. I really love the togetherness in baseball. That's a real true love."
And with this attitude comes the territorial imperative: to protect the club, to be loyal to it, to stand up for it, to be a stand-up guy-Really, all you have to know about Billy Martin is what Merrill Combs, his coach, says: "All Billy wants is what is ours. And he'll fight to get it. That's all." And Combs hits another fungo. That's all.
It might seem an anachronism that suburban-raised college graduates would give a hoot about whether their managers were stand-up guys who kicked dirt on umpires and threatened to retaliate against brushbacks and all that plug-ugly John McGraw stuff. But it is difficult to talk to any player who has ever worked for Martin who does not start off by referring to his loyalty: Billy Martin is behind you. That sort of thing still matters very much on the clubs. It is worth noting that Frank Robinson, one of the youngest managers and the new breed, for sure, made his biggest fuss last season when he claimed that Bobby Winkles, the college coach the Angels had hired as manager, didn't fight for his men hard enough. Football coaches are generals, but baseball managers are master sergeants.
The one track Billy Martin's mind runs on in this department can best be illustrated by an incident that occurred early this season when he was thrown out of a game by a rookie umpire, Richard Garcia. Martin maintained that Garcia had called a grounder fair only after getting a sign from his colleague at third base, Ron Luciano. Martin swore he had seen his nemesis Luciano give the signal. Garcia denied it. Thus the dispute became much more than a simple matter of judgment; to Martin it was a point of honor. Garcia was not wrong, he said; he could tolerate that. No, Garcia was lying. "Truth," he observed to several newspapermen in his office after the game, puffing on a pipe, reflecting on a favorite theme. "Truth. I don't think you see much of it anymore." He shook his head sadly; it was as if truth were a favorite puppy dog which no longer came when he called.
The newspapermen eyed him warily, as did the coaches. Martin can do a wonderful imitation, complete with darting eyes and shuffling feet, of how strangers react around him, convinced that he is going to haul off and hit them in the nose. You can't be too sure. Certainly nobody took any chances this time. Nobody smiled at all. The newspapermen competed with the coaches at trying to out-grim one another.
Postmortems done, Martin could at last begin to assess the full impact of the situation. "They're out to get me," he declared ominously. "Two National League umpires asked me in spring training why the umpires in my league were all out to get me. And if they're out to get me, it will be very difficult for my ball club to win this year. I've got to protect myself and my team."
Art Fowler came by, and Martin told him to get a microphone so he could wear it the next day and record any conversations with umpires for use in his defense in the league office's "kangaroo court." Fowler nodded and went to his locker. After so many seasons with Martin, Fowler could work earthquakes without getting perturbed.
"The really sad thing about Garcia," Martin said, picking up the thread again, "is that he had called a good game up to then. He could be a good ump. But he was out to get Martin, wasn't he?" For emphasis, he began to address himself directly to Garcia. "So you're real cute, Garcia. And now it's you and me. Let's see how you handle the pressure that way because you're going to get a lot of it now."
Martin leaned back, relit his big pipe and mused on tactics, a professor addressing a small seminar. An idea came to him. "I'm going to call him Spic or Greaser or Wetback, and see how he likes that," he said. The remark was made sot-to voce and, understand, it was spoken absolutely without malice or racial antagonism. Indeed, a complaint against Martin is that he favors Latin ballplayers. They remind him of the scuffling minority kid he was 25 years ago—and they return the affection. No, he was not being racial at all, merely pragmatic. This just seemed to him to be the most effective way for a stand-up guy to serve his club in this particular instance.
"They called me Dago and Wop, all that, every day I was growing up," he went on evenly. "That doesn't bother me anymore. I just look through those people. But can this guy? Let's see how he takes it when I walk out there tomorrow and say, 'Hello, Greaser.' Let's see."
As it turned out, Martin decided against using this ploy because he felt that Luciano was the greater threat. He put on a lavaliere mike and went after Luciano even before the game started.
Such controversies and disputes, violent or otherwise, are simply part and parcel of Martin by now. Deadpan, he maintains that he has never started a fight, but even granting that claim he certainly has set a lot of tables. Fights aside, twice he has been fined or suspended for ordering his pitchers to throw spitballs and brushbacks. When he was at Detroit and Baltimore was the chief foe, he orchestrated a feud with Oriole Manager Earl Weaver. Now that Oakland is Martin's Baltimore, he is spoiling for a newspaper scrap with the A's Alvin Dark.
In each case Martin seeks out the best weapons. As he would use ancestry to rattle Garcia, so against Weaver, a coarse little scuffler himself, Martin employed the most basic alley cat approach ("I'm going to take care of him, I'm going to hurt him"), and now for Dark he is plainly fondling his jugular—religion. Martin, who always pins a little gold cross on his cap, suggests that Dark is a Pharisee who wears his Christianity on his sleeve. "Everybody's always talking about my ego or this or that," Martin says a bit testily. "But do these people really know me? The Brat, they dubbed me. But I went to church every Sunday, I prayed to my God. And those people who dubbed me, did they go to church? I gave a car to a priest once. I don't believe anybody in a front office ever gave a car to a priest."
That display of largesse came after Martin was named MVP in the 1953 World Series, which turned out to be the apex of his playing career. His hustle won games—Mantle says Martin really didn't have much besides a good arm which, for a second baseman, is the fifth teat on a cow—but his dustups hardly fit the classic Yankee tradition of dignity, and he was sometimes nearly unstable. Once, Martin broke a leg sliding in spring training. So scared was he that he would never play again that he could not eat, and dropped from 163 pounds to 132 in the two months he had to sit out.
And then one morning, two weeks after his first child, a daughter, was born, his wife woke him and said there was a fellow at the door who wanted to see him. It was a process server delivering her divorce papers. Desperately, Martin fought for his marriage—"out of love, pride, hurt, who knows?"—in the bargain suffering acute melancholia, insomnia and hypertension. A winter's stay with Mantle in Commerce, Okla., where the city boy hunted and fished and funned, ate quail and mashed potatoes for breakfast and ballooned to 185, may have saved Martin's sanity.
But at least he was with the Yankees then, proudest of them all. After he left New York nothing seemed to work anywhere, and when he slugged Cub Pitcher Jim Brewer in 1960, the jig was really up. Brewer had to have an eye operation, and he and the Cubs sued Martin and the Reds for better than a million dollars—even though all the evidence indicates that Martin only bopped Brewer on the chin (after the pitcher called him "a little Dago son of a bitch," Martin says) and that it was a teammate who hit Brewer near the eye in the melee that followed. After the Reds ditched him, no one else in baseball offered support, even though the case set a nasty precedent in civil courts for intrasport conduct. Martin was saddled with suits for years, and has paid out $22,500 for legal fees and hospitalization. It was in effect the final repudiation of Billy Martin by the Establishment.
In the year and a half more he managed to hang on as a player Martin became a pariah; no longer just a brash pepperpot, in the public mind he was a psychotic who maimed people. So bad was his reputation that when Martin was cut by the Twins just before the '62 season, he turned down a $100,000 Japanese offer because he thought it was crucial to stay in the game here and try to rehabilitate his image. He signed on with the Twins as a $10,000 "troubleshooter" and settled into what became a six-year vocational hiatus.
"I had been knocked down so badly," he says. "The things they said about me. And when I was released, I was determined to come back. I thought: I got to stay in this game. I was going to eat humble pie, but I had to prove to people in baseball that I was a different person than who they thought I was. I'd let them see the real Billy Martin. But some of the stuff would follow me wherever I went. I know I'll never get completely away from it. But they've taken so many cheap shots at me, and I've won so often, I don't care anymore. I don't even take any satisfaction when I win again because it's just their own urine blowing back in their faces. It doesn't concern me."
When the offer to manage Denver came up suddenly in '68, Martin was still so insecure and defensive that his first response was to turn it down. Gretchen, a refined, small-town Midwesterner with Junior League looks, not at all the kind of woman you would expect to have been married to Billy Martin for 16 years, had to stay up with him till one in the morning convincing her husband to reach for the brass ring. Even then, he did not make up his mind until after a long prayerful session in church. Similarly, it took two days of the same sort of emotional gyrations before he finally agreed to head up the Rangers.
Perhaps he fears that it takes too much out of him, managing baseball. "I love it, I'm very happy," he says, "but I can't ever get away from it. I take it home with me, I take it to bed with me, I wake up with it. And what I feel inside you'll never see on the outside." Always, too, he is on trial in a way that other managers who may be just as obsessed are not. Martin is guilty until proven innocent, and he knows that. Rookie umpires don't throw Managers of the Year out of ball games the moment they say one naughty little barnyard word unless that is the case.
As Martin puts it, he is almost like a gunfighter now, with a reputation that invites challengers. Umpires, executives, journalists, tough guys—each in their ways are looking for a shot at him. He went into a bar not long ago, and down at the other end a guy bet his buddy he couldn't beat up Billy Martin. So he snuck up behind Billy and decked him. When Martin got up he took the fight to the aggressor, ruining his clothes and face in the process of playing catch-up ball. When he got home he said, "Gretchen, you'll never believe this, but I was just sitting there. I didn't say anything, I didn't do anything. It just happened." And what did she say? "She said, 'You're right, I don't believe it.' "
The world is always out to get Billy Martin—he is right—because the world cannot afford to tolerate Billy Martin. It would all come apart at the seams if we acted like him. This is another reason why we have commissioners. But nobody is going to do Billy Martin in, because he believes in himself as surely as he believes in the other things he fights for. "I don't care what the others think," he says. "I've always been the toughest critic of myself, and the only one I want to know me is Jesus Christ. They talk about my temper. Well, I haven't seen a good race horse yet who wasn't high-strung. And anyway, temper is a wonderful thing if you can control it and it doesn't control you. Jesus Christ took a whip to the money changers, right? Well, that's a temper, and that's not a bad guy to follow. The way I see it, my temper is a great ally. It is what has pushed Billy Martin."
And then, he has another edge on more temperate people in that he doesn't need a name on a mailbox to tell him where home is. Martin is at home wherever he pulls on a uniform and walks out there to get "ours" for the club.