In case you’ve watched MLB Community at any level up to now week or so — and if you happen to’re a baseball fan, you’ve in all probability been glued to the channel throughout baseball’s annual winter conferences in Orlando — you’ve seen the promos for “MLB Community Presents: Billy,” the 90-minute documentary on the person who spent his life driving a baseball curler coaster like few males earlier than or after him. Narrated by actor John Turturro, “Billy” airs tonight (Thursday) at eight ET.
I previewed “Billy” earlier this week. I initially supposed to look at possibly 10 minutes, then end it later, however wound up sitting by way of your complete present in a single sitting. It’s an extremely well-done documentary that I couldn’t cease watching. The tales about Martin appear nearly unimaginable now. Are you able to even think about one particular person managing the Yankees 5 completely different occasions? Not 5 years, however 5 completely different occasions — he was employed by the Yankees 5 occasions and fired by the Yankees 5 occasions.
After watching the documentary, I knew I needed to discuss with somebody who knew Martin, so I obtained Al Leiter on the telephone. Leiter, now an MLB Community analyst, made his big-league debut with the Yankees in September 1987. Martin was employed because the Yankees’ supervisor after that season — his fifth stint with the membership — which means Leiter’s first full-season supervisor was probably the most intimidating, unforgettable managerial figures in baseball historical past.
I requested Leiter my first query, and he spent the subsequent 15 minutes telling Billy Martin tales, each of us laughing just about the entire time, earlier than I requested my subsequent query. Earlier than I share a few of these tales, although, I need to begin with the very last thing Leiter stated about Martin.
“I’ve completed numerous cool issues,” he informed me. “Been in a World Sequence, received some cool stuff, threw a no-hitter, however there’s one thing about Billy, man. It was particular. I’m glad he was my first supervisor.”
Leiter grew up in New Jersey, about 70 miles from New York Metropolis. He was raised a Mets fan, as a result of his dad was a Mets fan. He developed right into a star prep pitcher — he was named a 1984 ACBA/Rawlings First Staff All-American (Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Jay Bell, Shawn Abner and Erik Pappas have been first-teamers, too) — and the Yankees drafted him within the second spherical out of highschool in 1984. He deliberate to pitch for the College of Florida, however as an alternative took the signing bonus and began his skilled profession. He typically struggled to throw strikes within the minors, however confirmed sufficient promise that the Yankees introduced him as much as the bigs as a September call-up on the finish of the 1987 season.
“Lou Piniella is my supervisor, 1987, and Don Mattingly is my first baseman, Willie Randolph at second, Ron Guidry is in my rotation with Tommy John, Righetti’s my nearer. It’s loopy,” Leiter stated. “I’m throwing to Rick Cerone. Simply as a baseball fan, as a child, visualizing and remembering the ’70s with (Chris) Chambliss and Billy Martin and Ron Guidry and Thurman Munson, it was loopy. It was like pinch-yourself stuff. That winter, George (Steinbrenner, the Yankees proprietor) fires Lou and hires Billy Martin once more.”
Welcome to the bigs, child. Right here’s Billy Martin.
“So right here I’m, going into my first spring coaching the place I figured I used to be going to make the staff, and Billy freakin’ Martin was my supervisor,” Leiter stated, laughing. “It was nonstop, buddies calling, household calling, ‘What’s Billy like? What’s Billy like?’ Much more so than, ‘What’s it prefer to play with Don Mattingly? What’s it prefer to play with Rickey Henderson? What’s it prefer to play with Dave Winfield? Oh my God, Tommy John and Ron Guidry are in your rotation.’ It was, ‘What’s Billy like?’ That was actually the reality of it. I simply knew the tales of Ed Whitson and the stuff in bars and eating places and Reggie Jackson and squaring off to guys. I instantly knew, as a younger child, I’d higher shut the hell up and simply be type, be well mannered and watch my step.”
The run-ins between Jackson and Martin are well-known, little question, however the Whitson story is a doozy, even by Billy Martin requirements. The documentary goes in-depth on the incident, with commentary from Guidry, Henderson and others who have been there, however right here’s the fast model: Late within the 1985 season, Whitson and a fan obtained heated in a lodge bar, with Whitson grabbing the man and pushing him in opposition to the wall. Martin comes flying in and punches Whitson, and the 2 — who had been butting heads all yr — begin going at it. The combat spilled exterior, and ended with a damaged proper arm for Martin.
So, yeah, Leiter’s seen-and-not-heard plan was in all probability fairly strong. It helped that the Yankees assigned legend Whitey Ford to assist the younger lefty throughout spring coaching. When Martin was a Yankees participant within the 1950s, the trio of Martin, Ford and Mickey Mantle have been practically inseparable. Figuring out one in all Martin’s finest buddies was on his facet helped give Leiter a little bit of consolation in these early days of his profession.
It wasn’t a get-out-of-Billy-jail-free card, although.
“It was early in April, and I’m doing my cuff weights, the Jobe workouts. Quite simple, gentle weights,” Leiter stated. “I can bear in mind this simply as clear as I’m speaking with you at present. Billy Martin is available in. It’s earlier than the sport, and I’m not pitching. It’s my facet day, and I’m getting my work in. Billy is available in. I’m not going through him, however I odor the cigar as he walks in. He used to stroll round and smoke a cigar. So I flip round and Billy’s in his shorts, the shorts you put on beneath your uniform, and he’s obtained a T-shirt on and bathe footwear on and he’s smoking this cigar as he’s strolling within the coaching room. He appears at me and says, ‘What’s improper with you?’ And I’m like, ‘Me?’
(I can hear the sense of dread in Leiter’s voice, all these years later, as he relives the second. Heck, I’m frightened of Billy as I’m listening to Leiter inform the story.)
“He says, ‘Yeah, what’s improper along with your arm?’ And I circled to see if there was someone else behind me,” Leiter stated. “And I say, ‘Nothing.’ And he says, ‘You need to strengthen your f—ing arm? You exit and lengthy toss. You don’t raise weights!’ And he goes off on this entire lifting weights factor. And I’m like, ‘Holy f—. All proper, word to self: Don’t do little five-pound weights round Billy.’ So I used to cover between begins down within the weight room to do my cuff weights. It simply struck me. It was so old-fashioned. Billy performed within the ’50s, and it was about that. You didn’t raise weights. You throw. You need to strengthen your arm, you long-toss, son! That was one the place he obtained irritated with me.”
Simply the thought of annoying Martin was sufficient of a deterrent for a teenager.
“I’d get actual wild, and Artwork would come out. That was (Billy’s) outdated buddy, Artwork Fowler, my pitching coach,” Leiter stated. “He was from North Carolina. He’d come out, ‘G—dammit, Leiter. You bought great things, simply put the ball over the plate! I do know one factor. You’re pissing Billy off!’ That was sort of his factor. Artwork was such a sweetheart of a person, however he would at all times finish with, ‘G—dammit, I do know you’re pissin’ Billy off!’ after which stroll off. That was the go-to for Artwork.”
Billy Martin argues with an umpire as Rickey Henderson watches throughout a recreation on April 7, 1988. (Getty Pictures)
Leiter’s season obtained off to a strong begin. The Yankees received 4 of his first 5 begins, and the lefty had a three.77 ERA with 37 strikeouts in 31 innings. His sixth begin was in Texas, on Could 6. He gave up a house run to Pete Incaviglia within the second inning, however that’s not why historical past remembers that day in Yankees lore. Martin was thrown out of the sport within the ninth inning for cursing at dwelling plate umpire Tim Welke — it was truly his first ejection of your complete season — and after the sport, he met up with Mantle and a few coaches and buddies.
Once more, the documentary digs in-depth, and we’ll provide the fast model: The group went out ingesting late within the evening, and ended up at a topless bar. There are completely different variations of the way it occurred, however the finish end result was Martin was overwhelmed up fairly badly by a few guys he didn’t know. He took a cab again to the staff lodge, however as destiny would have it, the fireplace alarm was going off and the lodge was being evacuated. As Martin’s cab pulls up at 5 a.m., the lodge friends are pouring out into the road. A type of friends: George Steinbrenner.
Leiter and his teammates by no means knew fairly what Martin would say or do, which meant they have been at all times looking for info the one manner they may.
“One of many different issues was getting up within the morning and getting the paper. There was no Twitter. There was no Instagram. Your supply of knowledge really was the newspaper. You bought it the subsequent day,” Leiter stated. “All of us, we might seize the paper, questioning what Billy had stated postgame. What did Billy say about final evening? And we have been his gamers! I bear in mind selecting up the Every day Information and the New York Instances and Newsday. I’d actually within the morning choose up all of the papers, the Star Ledger, and simply learn by way of to seek out out. See, Billy didn’t filter. That’s the opposite factor. You wound up discovering out what Billy was feeling or was saying or who he was mad at by way of the columnists. It was cool, truly.”
Leiter was additionally on the mound for the beginning of the penultimate recreation of Martin’s profession, in Detroit on June 21. The Yankees jumped throughout Jack Morris, knocking him out within the second inning with a barrage of hits, together with doubles by Dave Winfield, Jack Clark and Claudell Washington, and a house run by Randy Velarde. Leiter was coming off a poor outing; he’d allowed 5 runs in 2 1/three innings in his earlier begin, and the 5-Zero lead was enormous.
“I’m attempting to get a win. I’m on the mound and my finger begins to blister up, then it begins to bleed,” Leiter stated. “And I’m dabbing my finger on my pant leg, and there’s blood throughout my leg now. And outdated Tiger Stadium, there was numerous foul territory; the dugouts sucked and have been sort of low. And I suppose Billy noticed this moist spot on my leg, so he goes to the pitching coach and says, ‘What the f—’s on his leg?’ And he goes, ‘I dunno.’ So Billy comes out and appears at my finger, and it’s bleeding profusely. It’s not some little small factor. And he let me have it. I swear, I assumed he was going to deck me. ‘What the hell’s your downside? Get the hell off the mound!’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ I used to be simply attempting to pitch by way of it, which was dumb. I then had like a month-and-a-half on the DL.”
The Yankees wound up shedding when the bullpen imploded within the ninth, permitting six runs in a 7-6 loss. They misplaced once more the subsequent evening, because the Tigers completed the sweep — all three wins have been of the walk-off selection — and that was sufficient for Steinbrenner. Regardless that the Yankees have been 40-28, the mixture of losses, off-the-field points and, hell, in all probability behavior, brought on The Boss to fireplace Martin for the fifth time.
The Yankees performed below .500 the remainder of the 1988 season and missed the playoffs, and the 1989 season, with first Dallas Inexperienced after which Bucky Dent as managers, was an 87-loss catastrophe. Because the documentary talks about, there have been rumors that Steinbrenner was excited about hiring Martin for the sixth time, however Steinbrenner by no means obtained that likelihood.
On Christmas Day 1989, Martin and buddy Invoice Reedy have been driving again from a bar in Binghamton, N.Y., the place Martin lived. On their manner again dwelling — who was driving was the topic of two trials — in typical crummy upstate New York winter climate, Martin’s truck skidded off the street and right into a ditch. Martin was thrown ahead on influence and broke his neck on the windshield. He died on the scene.
“Due to the sudden demise, the accident, the tragedy, there’s intrigue, proper? Folks need to know extra,” Leiter stated. “Billy didn’t have the twilight years, or writing a e book or doing broadcasting or happening the talking circuit or no matter.”
As I’m speaking with Leiter, the dichotomy of Billy Martin is clear. His private demons have been an enormous, very actual a part of his story — the ingesting, the combating, the fixed bother — however there was a motive individuals cherished Martin, as an excellent supervisor and as an individual.
“To not paint an unsightly image, as a result of Billy was good to me. He actually was. He wished me to succeed. I used to be a younger participant, positively nervous. I watched what I stated, how I behaved, as a result of I didn’t need to piss Billy off,” Leiter stated. “You then see Billy on the bus or the aircraft, and he’s like, ‘The way you doing, Al? Good recreation. How’s your loved ones?’ It was like that.”
Billy Martin was, and is, an interesting particular person.
“I don’t consider myself as outdated,” Leiter stated, “however the truth that I obtained to the large leagues after I was 21 and Billy Martin was my first supervisor, my first full yr within the large leagues, individuals discover that extra fascinating than pitching extra video games to Mike Piazza, or being with Rickey Henderson on three completely different groups, or I’ve obtained a bunch of Corridor of Famers as teammates. After I inform them about Billy, they’re like, ‘You performed for Billy?!’ He had that intrigue.”
He completely did.
“MLB Community Presents: Billy” airs tonight at eight ET.