Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Good Thing Lilly Didn't Challenge Billy

For baseball fans born before 1980, two words probably flashed in your head the moment you read or heard about the altercation last night between Blue Jays pitcher Ted Lilly and manager John Gibbons.

Those words would be Billy, and Martin.

Billy Martin, manager/pugilist. Billy Martin, who had almost as many "altercations" with his own players as he did with the opposition -- or marshmallow salesmen.

Lilly, lifted in the third inning after letting the Oakland A's chop an 8-0 deficit to 8-7, was furious with Gibbons, refusing to give him the ball at one point. Then, after he left the game, Lilly waited for Gibbons in the dugout runway. What followed was some sort of scuffle that left Gibbons with a bloody nose.

Both combatants said no punches were thrown and all is now well.

For me, the first image that swooped into my mind was that of Martin challenging Reggie Jackson to a fight in the dugout at Fenway Park. It was circa 1977, and Jackson had earned Martin's wrath by attempting to bunt against the manager's orders. He struck out doing so. Then, later in the game, Reggie loafed on a fly ball, according to Martin's thinking. Billy removed Reggie on the spot -- in the middle of the inning.

I can still see Jackson's replacement -- I can't remember who it was -- jogging out to right field, shrugging at Reggie in a sort of "Just doing what I was told" manner. When Jackson returned to the dugout, Billy was waiting.

Oh, was he waiting.

Coach Elston Howard had to stand between the two. Reggie took off his glasses -- later admitting he did so because he thought Billy and he were going to dance. Martin was furious, screaming at Jackson until the veins in his neck bulged. If you remember Billy's tirades, you know the look. Several times Martin had to be restrained from going after Jackson, who seemed perplexed and bemused. And it was all captured by TV cameras trained on the Yankees' dugout.

Martin and Jackson in a rare playful moment; the two detested each other

Martin also had a rumble with his own pitcher -- Dave Boswell of the Twins. Billy was managing the Twins in 1969 when he and Boswell took an argument that started inside the old Lindell AC in Detroit into the parking lot. In typical Martin fashion, Billy slugged Boswell with a sucker punch as soon as they stepped outside the bar. When Martin managed the Tigers in 1971, one of the players GM Jim Campbell acquired late in the season was ... Dave Boswell.

Martin also had tumbles with many opposing players, a marshmallow salesman, and a few teammates.

He died on Christmas Night, 1989, in a well-publicized single-vehicle crash in which whether the driver was Martin or friend Bill Reedy became an issue. Yes, alcohol was related.

Controversial to the bitter end -- Billy Martin.

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