Memories of Billy Martin From Mike Pagliarulo, Rod Carew, and Rickey Henderson
Billy Martinâ€™s death on Christmas evening 1989 provided the troubled finish to a melancholy year for baseball. As a way to look back on that day and Martinâ€™s career, as well as the reasons why he had such an impact on baseball and the players he managed, here are some memories of the man. In October 2008, I talked with Mike Pagliarulo about his time playing for Martin on the 1980s Yankees:
Q: How did you respond to Billy Martin, first as your coach on the Yankees, and then upon learning of his death?
A: I loved Billy Martin. That was a very sad day for me. I burst out crying when I heard the news.
He was the kind of guy who wasnâ€™t afraid to tell you what he thought of you. If I got one hit in a game and hit a couple other balls well, but they were caught, what heâ€™d say to me was, â€œYou dumb-ass dago, you canâ€™t get more than one hit.â€ Billy was very honest.
I remember one day, a game against the Angels. It was 1985, my first full season. In the eighth inning I fielded a bunt, threw the ball to second, and the throw pulled the man off base. When I got back to the dugout, Billy was waiting on the top step, screaming at me, â€œWhat the hell were you thinking out there? That wasnâ€™t the right play.â€ I didnâ€™t back down; I told him, â€œIt was the right play, I just didnâ€™t make the throw.â€
A little while later Clete Boyer, our third base coach, says Billy wants to see me in his office. Iâ€™m thinking Iâ€™m going to get sent down, but Billy said, â€œHey look, maybe you were right about that play.â€ He didnâ€™t say â€œYouâ€™re right,â€ but he said maybe I was right. He was willing to admit he was wrong. Of course he added, â€œYou dago son of a bitch, Iâ€™m only saying this because youâ€™re Italian.â€
Billy could see the field so completely; he knew what everybody was doing. My manager with the Twins, Tom Kelly, was like that. One day I made a step on third and throw to first double play, and back in the dugout T.K. said, â€œMaybe you should have stepped on the base with your other foot, it would have put you into better position to make the throw.â€ T.K. did the same kind of ribbing as Billy, just a little quieter. Iâ€™m half-Irish, and itâ€™s funny, one day T.K. said the exact same thing Billy had: â€œIâ€™m only saying this because youâ€™re Irish. Now get the hell out of here.â€ Billy and T.K., they noticed everything. Sometimes you didnâ€™t necessarily like it, but they noticed everything.
Hereâ€™s Rod Carew, writing about Martin in his self-titled 1979 autobiography: â€œReggie [Jackson] is a giant compared with Billy, but if they had ever come to blows, Reggie would have had to kill Billy to keep him down. The harder you hit Billy the more heâ€™ll keep coming back at you.
â€œFor all this, Billy is a gentleman, and a really fine manager. Heâ€™s smart, knows how to handle players and is aggressive. He has a theory that aggressive, running teams force opponents to make mistakes. He must know what heâ€™s doing. Heâ€™s managed first-place teams in Minnesota, Detroit and New York. Billy and I also became good friends. He helped me tremendously on the field and off, giving me meaningful fatherly advice when I really needed it.â€
Finally, in his Hall of Fame induction speech this June, Rickey Henderson said: â€œIn 1980, the Aâ€™s hired a new manager that I would look up to for the rest of my life, one of the best teachers and managers anyone could ever play for, Mr. Billy Martin. Billy always got the most out of me. He taught me to compete at the highest level and respect the game of baseball. Billy, I miss you very much and I wish you were here with me today.â€