September 22, 2021

Memories of Billy Martin From Mike Pagliarulo, Rod Carew, and Rickey Henderson

December 23, 2009 by · 4 Comments 

Billy Martin’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 Martin’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 wasn’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 he’d say to me was, “You dumb-ass dago, you can’t get more than one hit.” 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, “What the hell were you thinking out there? That wasn’t the right play.” I didn’t back down; I told him, “It was the right play, I just didn’t make the throw.”

A little while later Clete Boyer, our third base coach, says Billy wants to see me in his office. I’m thinking I’m going to get sent down, but Billy said, “Hey look, maybe you were right about that play.” He didn’t say “You’re right,” but he said maybe I was right. He was willing to admit he was wrong. Of course he added, “You dago son of a bitch, I’m only saying this because you’re Italian.”

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, “Maybe you should have stepped on the base with your other foot, it would have put you into better position to make the throw.” T.K. did the same kind of ribbing as Billy, just a little quieter. I’m half-Irish, and it’s funny, one day T.K. said the exact same thing Billy had: “I’m only saying this because you’re Irish. Now get the hell out of here.” Billy and T.K., they noticed everything. Sometimes you didn’t necessarily like it, but they noticed everything.

Here’s Rod Carew, writing about Martin in his self-titled 1979 autobiography: “Reggie [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 he’ll keep coming back at you.

“For all this, Billy is a gentleman, and a really fine manager. He’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 he’s doing. He’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.”

Finally, in his Hall of Fame induction speech this June, Rickey Henderson said: “In 1980, the A’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.”

Arne Christensen runs Misc. Baseball, a blog assembling eclectic items about baseball’s history, and 1995 Mariners.


4 Responses to “Memories of Billy Martin From Mike Pagliarulo, Rod Carew, and Rickey Henderson”
  1. Ted Leavengood says:

    One of the most fascinating characters to play the game. In researching 1969–Martin’s rookie year as a manager in Minnesota–there were some great stories about him. His feud with Ted Williams over who started using video tape first, whether Williams was just a one-dimensional player unlike himself was noteworthy, but his fight with Dave Boswell was no doubt the best. If memory serves, Boswell dissed Martin over their lack of agreement on Boswell’s abilities on the mound. When they met in a bar, Boswell called him out and Martin dispatched him to la-la land in three punches that he described beautifully for the media. Boswell went on to pitch out the rest of the season and did not disagree with his manager again. Martin was in a class by himself, no doubt about it.

  2. Artie says:

    Billy Martin did what very,very few mangers could do. Turn bad or underacheiving teams around and make them winners and contenders. He also did it very quickly. Look at what he accomplished in 1974 with Texas and 1980 with Oakland. Those two teams had been the worst teams in baseball the year before and he got them in pennant races the next year, finishing in second place. Say what you will about him personally, but the man could manage.


Check out what others are saying about this post...
  1. […] any event, Arne Christensen has the anniversary of Billy’s passing covered here and memories of Martin here. Check them both […]

  2. […] Martin and Tony La Russa Last year, at the 20th anniversary of Billy Martin’s death, I wrote an article that focused on Mike Pagliarulo’s memories of his one-time manager. Pags said: “Billy […]

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