Results tagged ‘ Billy Martin ’
CCA: On page 209 of Nancy Finley’s new book “Finley Ball,” she writes that manager Billy Martin started dating Jill, who he eventually married. (She also was called “the devil” by his children from another marriage by refusing to give them any memorabilia and selling it all after Martin’s death.) Is it true that she was dating a player who asked you “how do you complain to the manager who is hitting on your girlfriend?” Are you comfortable naming this player?
REVISITING 1980 – BILLY MARTIN’S DOG HOUSE & SOAP OPERA
“Billy first laid eyes on Jill Guiver in 1980 before a game against the California Angels. She had a camera on her shoulder. Though she didn’t work for any organization, she was telling everyone she was a free-lance photographer. At one time she had dated one of the Yankee players, Reggie Jackson. According to ball players who knew her at the time, her photography was her way to get to meet them. The way she looked, an introduction was all she needed. She liked to wear tight-fitting clothes and short shorts. She was very sexy. Jill asked Billy if she could take his picture. Billy asked her if he could take her for a drink after the game. They began dating, which threw a scare into at least four of Billy’s players who were also seeing her. These players feared that she would reveal to Billy that they were also going with her and that Billy would take it out on them. They were praying that Billy’s relationship with Jill Guiver would soon end, that she was only a phase, in part because they feared Billy’s wrath and also because as long as Billy was with her, they couldn’t be.” ~ Wild, High and Tight: The Life and Death of Billy Martin
BK:I don’t know if it was the day Billy met Jill, but it had to be close to it. All the players had noticed an attractive woman with a camera near our dugout during batting practice. Billy spent an abnormally long amount of time in the clubhouse during the game that day. This was extremely rare. Billy was always watching the game from the dugout. I wasn’t pitching on this day and happened to be in the clubhouse when I saw Billy emerge from the manager’s office with Jill. Most of the players had noticed Billy’s unusually long absence from the dugout,and a few knew that Billy was interested in the “girl with the camera”. I don’t think any of them knew he was alone with her in the manager’s office during the game.
Well I don’t know about four players on our team dating her, but I had heard of one that was. During the game I mentioned to him that I had seen Jill in Billy’s office. His response was “How do you complain to the manager who is hitting on your girlfriend?” Maybe he was just wondering what those other guys mentioned in Wild High & Tight were going to do about it?
CCA: There was also an instance mentioned in the same book where Martin tells you to walk a guy and the guy reaches out and slaps a single on pitch that was meant to be ball and Martin apparently charged out of the dugout screaming, “you motherfucker…I told you to walk him!”
BK:There were actually two games where Billy really surprised me with the way he handled things. The first one is the one you asked about, where Billy came out of the dugout yelling at me. It was against the Cleveland Indians. The second game was about two months later against the Toronto Blue Jays. Both are described below:
THIS IS THE HORSESHIT MOTHERFUCKER GAME AGAINST THE INDIANS (MAY 7, 1980)
On May 7, 1980 I pitched a game against the Cleveland Indians in Oakland. It was a day game and there were maybe 5,000 fans in attendance. I didn’t give up a hit until the 5th inning, but in the 6th I gave up two hits and when Mike Hargrove came to the plate, Billy Martin came to the mound.Billy told me to throw Hargrove four straight pitches high and away. “Maybe we can get him to pop up”. The first two pitches were shoulder-high and a foot outside. The next pitch was a little higher, but maybe only 9 or 10 inches off the plate. Hargrove managed get a hit and Billy came out of the dugout screaming obscenities (“You horse shit motherfucker”) at me. With such a small crowd his voice carried, and could be heard throughout the stadium.
My catcher Jim Essian couldn’t believe that we didn’t just walk Hargrove. Which is the same thing Hargrove told our first baseman.
It turns out Hargrove knew that Billy had told me to throw him high fastballs up and away. He said he had seen it before several times when Billy was his manager in Texas.
THE STUPID PITCHER GAME: JULY 21,1980
In the game above, against the Indians, Billy had called me a horseshit motherfucker. In this game, about two months later, I apparently had progressed enough to just being called stupid, which some may see as an upgrade from horseshit motherfucker.
Toronto Blue Jays 1 Oakland Athletics 0
Pitching IP H R ER BB SO HR ERA
Brian Kingman, L (5-10) 9 9 1 1 2 8 1 3.41
Billy was a great manager. He knew the game, and all of its nuances, inside out. If he had a weakness as a manager it was in how he treated players. He was especially hard on pitchers, especially LOSING pitchers. The last straw for me was in a game he insisted I throw a fastball to a hitter (Alvis Woods) who hit a home run. I threw a complete game and lost 1-0. When the reporters came up to me after the game, they told me that Billy said I was a stupid pitcher because I threw a fastball hitter a fastball behind in the count. My reply to the reporters was: ‘How stupid can I be if Billy is the one who called the pitch? The next day the headline in the sports section was:
KINGMAN RIPS MARTIN
Well, that might not have been the best thing for my career. The old proverb “The truth shall set you free, suddenly turned into “It may be the truth, but the truth shall make Billy mad” I had no idea that would be the headline! I realize that reporters have to make a living, and headlines sell papers, but after this happened, I knew Billy hated me. He was a very small man in that way – holding grudges, always looking for revenge for things real and imagined.
CCA:Nancy also talks a bit about how you were going to get married but Billy Martin was dead set against it. You lost 9 in a row after the marriage. What was going on there?
Was it a psychological issue? Rebellion?
BK:The short answer is that It wasn’t a rebellion. It was just the cumulative effect of a very toxic situation. The combination of poor run support combined with a manager who unless you were winning, was one of the hardest managers to pitch for. Instead of looking forward to my next start, I began to dread it. For the long answer read on:
The games above preceded my 9 game losing streak. Before the losing streak my record was 7-11 and my ERA was 3.41. I easily could have been 11-7, except for the fact that I was getting less than 3 runs a game in offensive support.
The 2.50 runs per game the A’s scored in my 20 losses are deceptive because 11 of the 50 runs scored were in one game.
If you take out those 11 runs and that one game, I got a whopping 2.05 runs per game in my other 19 losses. If I had been 11-7 with a 3.41 ERA I believe I Billy would have found someone else to pick on. Everyone is happy when they are winning. Losing was like a small piece of death for Billy,and I was losing at an alarming rate.
In order to get married I was going to have to miss a game. I told Art Fowler about my plans and he said “You’d better ask Billy, he usually doesn’t like guys getting married during the season because it’s a distraction” I told Art that I would ask Billy, but I was thinking there could be no bigger distraction for me than Billy. My first goal when I stepped on the mound was to win the game. My second goal, unfortunately had become to avoid incurring Billy’s wrath.
Billy “granted” me permission to miss a game and get married. When I returned I threw 3 straight complete games, but lost all three by the scores of 3 -2, 4 -3 & 4 -2. I pitched well in those games. I think my era was around 3.5, yet my record now stood at 7-14. The main reason I was losing once again was a lack of offensive support. One of the most devastating factors to a pitchers won-loss record is a lack of offensive support. It the difference between winning 5-4 instead of losing 3-2.
“As for Kingman’s run support, it was literally historically bad. I’ve gone through the game logs at retrosheet & figured out the run support (adjusted for park & league)for 1096 different seasons in which a pitcher started at least 25 games. Kingman’s 1980 is the 13th worst of that bunch. His run support was only 68% of league average when adjusted for park & league.”
I read this about 10-12 years ago on line. It was written by a blogger called Dag Nabbit. It was from one of those baseball Sabermetric sites that are often a challenge to read, but he did a good job of translating my misery and explaining it numerically. I have always want to thank Dag Nabbit, so maybe he will read this. I am positive that very, very few fans, or even players pay attention to a pitcher’s long term lack of offensive support, and even fewer appreciate how utterly devastating it can be.
In the remaining six games of my losing streak, I pitched less effectively than I had up to that point in the season. There is no doubt that the psychological burden of losing was becoming more and more of a factor. Constant, long term losing erodes confidence, which is crucial to success in all sports.The lethal combination of poor offensive support and playing for a manager who hated to lose perhaps more than any manager in baseball history took it’s toll on me. There was an increasingly pervasive sense of futility that you think you can overcome by being mentally tough, and to a certain degree you can. However it is still a burden, an additional obstacle, for which the only remedy is to win. It felt like I was the only one losing, since all the other starters were winning. After losing nine consecutive games my record stood at 7-20.
“Brian Kingman was a pitcher who was very frustrating to Billy because Billy could see he was probably the most talented of the five of us as far as stuff went. Brian was a very intellectual guy. If Brian and Billy had a problem, it was because Brian would not talk to Billy about things that bothered him or about personal things” ~Matt Keough Wild, High and Tight: The Life and Death of Billy Martin
If you look at the history of 20 game losers you’ll see that virtually all of them were on teams that lost at least 90 games, and quite often 100 games or more. On those teams with 20 game losers almost all the starters have losing records.They say misery loves company, well I was all alone in 1980. In fact the last time a pitcher lost 20 games on a winning team was in 1922. His name
was Dolf Luque. Ironically I was a winning pitcher in 1979 (8-7) with a team that lost 108 games.
Forgive me for acting the role of a withered old man and opening this conversation by talking about the weather, but the days are getting noticeably cooler and downcast and I am embracing the respite from the sun. When the sky is cloudless with a light grey hue it tends to dismiss humans and their petty vocations because its less violent and talkative creatures need vital H20. It gives me the feeling of ennui that I embrace like a long forgotten friend who ignites and inspires my creative energies with truthful exuberance. I imagine it’s the same feeling of animated sprightliness and mischievousness that caused Phillies fans to boo Santa Claus. They claimed he was drunk, skinny and beardless and who can blame them?
There is a sushi restaurant less than a block away from my house that I like to patronize on occasion. Today I stopped in for a few .99 cent sake bombs and there was an interesting article in the newspaper (now printed with soy ink!) concerning stat guru Bill James. According to James and his own Pythagorean formula the A’s should be 7 games over .500. I’m not sure whether it was Billy Martin or Earl Weaver or every other manager in the history of baseball that said your team can only go as far as their bullpen; but whoever it was they were certainly correct as far as the 2015 Oakland A’s are concerned.
Coco Crisp returned from the D.L. on Monday accounting for 2 hits, all but doubling his season total and raising his average to .082. Although the aforementioned feat happened at the hands of a 9-2 drubbing by the Orioles, this seemed to be a special moment because of Senior Crisp’s injuries and dwindling ability to help this team. I would compare the moment he stepped into the box to a Rolling Stones concert–very expensive, way past its prime, and incipient of a moment that should be enjoyed presently because it will be over before you know it. Perhaps Mr. Jagger, he of the peacock candor, can tip his cap to that.
The air is getting more crisp in the mornings and I’m looking forward to Fall and sweaters and hot coffee in the early AM hours. I walked the dog in the wet air, and after peeing in his preferred spots I came home, made my girlfriend a bagel with cream cheese and then sat down for some light reading. I found this to be a rather funny excerpt from the current book on the “devour list,”Billy Martin’s 1987 book, Billyball:
…Mickey Mantle and I were in (the club) and sitting across the room was Elizabeth Taylor. She was with Michael Todd, who was her husband at the time, and Rock Hudson. Ed Wynne came over and asked if Mickey and I would pose for a picture with the three of them. I said we’d be glad to.
We went over and Ed makes the introductions all around, and let me tell you, I looked at Elizabeth Taylor’s face and it was like looking at the face of an angel. Her features were perfect. She was simply lovely, the most beautiful woman I had ever seen in my life. I just couldn’t believe a woman could be that beautiful. And she was wearing a low-cut dress. Oh, my God, I thought I had died and gone to heaven.
So Ed introduces us and she’s very nice and sweet although I’m not even sure she knew who we were. And we pose for pictures and that was it, the whole thing took no more than a few minutes. Now Mickey and I return to our table and I just can’t get over how beautiful Elizabeth Taylor is. I’m talking a mile a minute.
“Mickey”, I said, “Did you see that face? Did you you ever see such a face? That is the most beautiful face I have ever seen in my life.”
“I ain’t seen her face,” Mickey said. “but did you see them tits?”
“The tears I shed yesterday have become rain.”
A psychiatrist analyzes Billy Martin: He acts out our own anger. The athlete in America is a hero figure because we can sublimate our anger through his action. It wouldn’t be socially acceptable to slug somebody at a bar. It would be socially acceptable conduct to sit in the stands and egg Billy Martin on against an umpire; an authority figure. He fights our battles for us with no loss of status and with no pain. Heavy alcohol use directly affects brain function and alters various brain chemical and hormonal systems known to be involved in the development of many common mental disorders (e.g., mood and anxiety disorders). Thus, it is not surprising that alcoholism can manifest itself in a broad range of psychiatric symptoms and signs. Alcohol abuse can cause signs and symptoms of depression, anxiety, psychosis, and antisocial behavior, both during intoxication and during withdrawal. At times, these symptoms and signs cluster, last for weeks, and mimic frank psychiatric disorders As Freud believed, conflicts are part of the human condition and certain ego functions may become conflicted by aggressive and libidinal impulses, as witnessed by conversion disorders, speech impediments, eating disorders, and attention-deficit disorder.
I attended my first game at the age of 8 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. Dodger Stadium was not in existence yet. The Dodgers were playing the much hated Giants, and Don Drysdale was pitching. Attending that game made a tremendous impression on me. It wasn’t just the game itself, it was being in the middle of
30-40,000 cheering people, mostly adults, who were invested in the outcome of the game. It was at that point I began to see baseball as more than just ‘a game’.
My parents made me attend church every Sunday, but by the age of 9 or 10 I decided that baseball was my religion. Koufax and Drysdale might as well have been gods, and Vin Scully, the Dodgers radio voice the High Priest. Each game was like a sermon. You learned about baseball, the players, and the history of the game.
One day in the 5th grade, my best friend found out that Sandy Koufax was going to be speaking at
a $100 a plate luncheon at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. It was about a four mile bike ride from where we
lived, and it was in the middle of the week, so we would have to figure out how to miss school.
When we arrived at the Hilton, we searched until we found the banquet room where Sandy was the guest of honor. We asked the doorman if we could just look in and actually see Koufax. When he opened the door we saw Sandy sitting at a podium at the front of a large banquet room with at least 300 people having lunch and listening to various speakers. We both waved at Sandy, much to our surprise, he waved back.
It made our day!
We thanked the doorman and asked if Koufax would be coming out through these doors because we wanted to get his autograph. He told us that he would and we walked off looking for a good place to wait. As we were walking away, the doorman said, “Hey boys come back here”. He told us that Sandy wanted us to come in and join the luncheon. We couldn’t believe it, and we knew no one back at school was going to believe us either.
The waiters actually set up another table for us in the very front of the room, right near the podium. We were surrounded by wealthy businessmen wearing suits, and there we were in our jeans and T-shirts. It’s not everyday you get to meet God, but on that day 50 years ago, we thought we had. Needless to say, Sandy autographed our baseballs for us but it was so
much more than just an autograph he had given us. It was a priceless memory and an act of kindness which showed that Koufax was more than just a great pitcher
Becoming a professional baseball player was a life long goal. Signing a contract to play in the Oakland A’s minor league system was emotionally satisfying, validating years of hard work. However as satisfying as it was there was also a downside to professional baseball. Everyone who has ever played professional baseball learns very quickly, that although the competition is better and the game itself hadn’t changed, we weren’t just playing baseball anymore. We were in the business of playing baseball.
Every minor league player has the same dream and shares a common goal: playing in the big leagues. But for 95% of them, the dream comes to an end in the minor leagues. To see one of your teammates released, and realizing it was the end of a life-long dream was painful. It was almost as if someone had died, in a very real way part of them had. The joyful innocence of a neighborhood pick-up game was a distant memory, replaced by the harsh realities of professional baseball.
Most of the players I have known will tell you that their time in the minor leagues was more enjoyable than the time spent in the major leagues, if for no other reason than minor league players spend more time together. Major league players live with their families at home and have a room to themselves on the road. Minor league players are roommates at home and on the road. They endure 10 hour bus rides, worry about playing time, slumps, injuries, and the possibility of being released. Most of all they share the dream of playing in the big leagues.
I got off to a great start in my second year playing for the 1976 Chattanooga Lookouts, the Double A affiliate for the Oakland A’s.
I was 8-3 half way through the season, had a moving fastball in the mid 90’s, and good command of a sharp breaking slider. If it
wasn’t for the fact that the A’s were a team with several established veteran pitchers, I would likely have been called up to the
In 1976, baseball was in the early years of free agency. By mid-season, A’s owner Charles Finley decided to trade and sell off his star players rather than lose them to free agency. Catfish Hunter had been traded to the Yankees and Reggie Jackson to the Orioles. When Finley attempted to sell Vida Blue, Rollie Fingers, and Sal Bando, Bowie Kuhn who was the Commissioner of baseball prohibited the sale, saying that, “It wasn’t in the best interests of baseball”. Well it would have been in my best interests!
There is a very good chance that if those transactions had been allowed, I would have been pitching for the A’s that summer. Unfortunately I tore a tendon in my elbow later that season, eventually underwent elbow surgery, and spent the next two years
rehabbing, trying to get back on the path to the big leagues. I became a different pitcher by necessity. The velocity and movement on my fastball were diminished, and a curveball replaced my slider. The narrow and treacherous path to the big
leagues became even more precarious.
In June of 1979, I finally made it to the promised land, and won my first game in Yankee Stadium in July. I felt privileged to
have competed on the same field as Ruth, Gehrig, and DiMaggio, but even better having beaten the defending World Champions. I ended up with a with a 8-7 record on a team that lost 108 games.
Prior to the 1980 season the A’s hired Billy Martin to manage the team. He turned a horrible (54-108) team into a winning
team (83-79) by maximizing the teams strengths which were starting pitching and speed. Rickey Henderson stole 100 bases.
We led the league in ERA and set a modern-day record with 94 complete games.
1980 was also the year I lost 20 games. Despite pitching well, I suffered from a lack of offensive support. 20 game losers
are almost always found on 90-100 loss teams. However, I managed to lose 20 games on a winning team, something that
hadn’t been done since 1922, and very likely will never happen again. The hardest part of losing 20 games for me was the
fact that I was the only one losing. The twenty game losers on those 100 loss teams had company. They say misery loves
company, well I was all alone!
Billy Martin was a great manager. Few could match his knowledge of the game and none could match his willingness
to take risks. He was a master of the element of surprise. Billy was a very intense individual. His intensity was both his
greatest strength and his greatest weakness. The famous Lombardi quote, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”,
is the perfect description of what Billy was like. For Billy, losing was like a small piece of death.
As a player Billy was combative and frequently involved in fights. As a manager Billy could go from a great motivator to a bullying tyrant very quickly. He occasionally became involved in fights on and off the field, several of them with his own pitchers. One night at the hotel bar in Kansas City after a loss Billy decided he wanted to fight me. I didn’t see it as a wise decision for
either of us. Obviously it wouldn’t be a good career move for me, and Billy was sure to get at least a short beating before thecoaches could intervene. We walked outside, me alone, and Billy with his entourage, his coaches as bodyguards, to get it on. When Rickey Henderson noticed everyone headed outside he asked what was going on. He was told to not get involved. To his
credit he thought I looked outnumbered and disobeyed the coaches. Rickey was there for me if I needed help.
Billy began by poking me in the chest with his finger. I grabbed his hand and wouldn’t let him retract it. He tried to swing his other hand at me and I grabbed it too. The coaches rushed in to break it up, no punches landed by either side. Needless to say, 1980 was a very long year for me. Losing 20 games in a season is hard on any pitcher but doing it for Billy Martin made it twice as hard.
Billy could play the nice guy too. One time on a flight after I had pitched well but lost, he told Art Fowler to bring me up to the front
of the plane where Billy and the coaches sat. He told me I had thrown a great game that day and he was proud of me. He said,
“Next year will better. You’re going to win 20 games next year”. I returned to the back of the plane and about 10 minutes later I see Art coming down the aisle again looking straight at me. “Billy wants to see you again” Art said. This time Billy was on his second bottle of wine. He said, “With you’re stuff your going to win 23 games for us next season”. The guys in the back of the plane wanted to know what Billy had told me. I said “The first time he said I was going to be a 20 game winner next year, and
this time I had made it up to 23 wins. If this flight lasts long enough, who knows, I might have had a shot at winning 30!”
The next two years saw us go from a playoff team in 1981 to a 4th place finish in 1982. Our pitching staff that had completed
154 out of 271 games during the 1980 & 1981 seasons began to show symptoms of overuse. Billy’s relationship with the owners deteriorated quickly, and he was fired after the season. I was sold to Boston and ended my career with the Giants.
Baseball comes to an end for everyone who has played the game. The end may come in high school, college, or perhaps
in professional baseball. Very few leave the game on their own terms. The longer you play the game the more it becomes
a part of your life and the harder it is to say goodbye.
Satchel Paige was right when he said, “Don’t look back, something might be gaining on you”. For a very longtime, that “something” was my baseball career. It was several years before I could enjoy talking about it and revisiting the memories.
The end of a career can be like a divorce when someone you still love has decided to move on without you.
Despite not throwing a baseball for 25 years, teammates from college and high school convinced me to play baseball again in the MSBL World Series. What I discovered playing MSBL was beyond my greatest expectations. I rediscovered the joyful innocence
of playing baseball we all experienced as kids, playing the game because we love it. It was almost a shock to see guys hustling and playing hard because they wanted to and having a great time.
Baseball has always been more than just a game. Playing baseball for me is like going home again. New friends are made, and old friends are reunited. Vin Scully once said “It’s a mere moment in a man’s life between the All-Star Game and an old timer’s game” For some of us it has been five of six decades since our first game as a kid, yet it too seems like a mere moment.
Our time together is magical, but unfortunately comes to an end all too soon.
They say that professional athletes die twice in this life, and the first time is when you stop playing. Thanks to the Mens Senior Baseball League, I am still trying to decide if I have been reincarnated or born again. Either way I consider myself lucky, not everyone gets to die three times. No worries though, old ballplayers never die, they just fade away.
By Brian Kingman
Billy Martin was well known for drinking to excess and for rowdy behavior when drinking. A group of Yankees met at the famous Copacabana nightclub to celebrate Martin’s 29th birthday; the party ultimately erupted into a much publicized brawl, which resulted in Billy being traded to the Kansas City A’s. This would run his ‘fight record” to 4-1, as well as separate him from his beloved Yankees and his best friend Mickey Mantle.
Then 25 years after the Copa, and 13 years after his fight with Dave Boswell, Billy entered uncharted waters. In June of 1982 while the Oakland A’s were on a road trip in Kansas City Billy got into a heated conversation with me that he felt he wanted to finish outside.
Whereas Boswell was a 20 game winner in 1969 (also the year of his fight with Billy) I was a 20 game loser. Never, I repeat NEVER! underestimate the underlying rage and frustrations that losing 20 games can produce. Especially with a 20 game loser who had been seething over being called a dummy for pitch selection by his manager, who had called the pitches! That was our topic of conversation that wonderful night in Kansas City.
Once outside on that humid night in Kansas City I was ready for Billy’s renowned cheap shot antics. I also knew there was little to no danger. If Billy even landed a punch it was unlikely to have much of an impact. He enjoyed his reputation as a fighter, and wearing his black cowboy hat. I respected all of that and the fact that he was a great manager (on the field) but no, I’m sorry, ain’t no one gonna be kicking my ass…..with just a big mouth a cowboy hat and a reputation. They’re gonna have to bring it on!
So there we were face to face with Billy’s coaches nearby for his protection. He was yelling at me and I yelled back at him. Then he started to jab his finger in my chest. After the second or third time poking me in the chest, sure enough, here came the sucker punch. But I was waiting for it and grabbed his arm gave it a twist and had him in a head lock. I handed him to a coach for safe keeping, just as the rest of the coaches were jumping in to separate us. Art Fowler the pitching coach punched me in the face but I believe it was for Billy to see and hear about as evidence of Art coming to his defense, because there was nothing behind the punch.Rickey was there but I think he was just trying to keep from laughing at this point. But I was glad he was there for two reasons. One was that you never know what can happen and two, you never know what the “official version” of what happened will be unless you have at least one credible witness. Rickey was willing to get involved even though he had nothing to gain and that should tell you all you need to know about Rickey as a teammate. The next day I gave Art a thank you card and offering a rematch signed “Muhammad Ali Kingman” and we all laughed about it. Well at least Art and I did. Yes I am calling it a KO because that was the ultimate outcome if the fight hadn’t been stopped….by ME!
Later that year Billy took on the wall in his office, but we decided the wall won from the look of Billy’s hands and his defeated look that night.
I did hear that Billy got the better of a porcelain urinal the next season. Can’t imagine what the urinal did to piss him off, but I am sure they had an interesting conversation before it came to blows. In 1985 Ed Whitson administered Billy’s final ass kicking, helping to avenge the losses incurred by Tommy Lasorda, Jim Brewer and Dave Boswell who I am sure were all smiling when they heard the news. I know I was.
“Of course it’s possible to love a human being if you don’t know them too well.” ― Charles Bukowski
by Mitch Ferrer
It was the spring of 1980 and my beloved A’s had brought in Billy Martin to manage this hapless team. Why he took the job I don’t really know, I guess he just had nothing better to do. A dearth of other offers was probably a big factor. I guess Billy lived to manage. But honestly, to go from the New York Yankees with Willie Randolph, Reggie Jackson, Graig Nettles, et al to a team with guys with the names… Klutts, Gross, and Cox, well lets just say; Could there be a farther fall from grace? But hey, Martin was a hometown boy, having graduated from Berkeley High, so I guess he figured we had to love him. And we did.
It was that spring that a reporter asked Martin if he thought the A’s could win the division. I don’t remember who that reporter was, but he must have been one sarcastic smart-ass. To Billy’s credit, he replied “I don’t know if we can win the division, but I know we will finish above the Angels.” Now, for those of you who don’t remember, this was the “Gene Autry, I wanna win a championship before I die and you can’t take with you, Angels”. Free Agency jumped off in a big way in 1976 and Autry took full advantage, signing Joe Rudy, Bobby Grich and Don Baylor (1979 MVP) that year. This team had won the Western Division the previous year, 34 games ahead of the last place A’s.
Well, it was April 20th 1980, and my childhood buddy, Jim and I took a trip to the Coliseum to check out what this “Billy Ball” thing was all about. And what a day of Baseball we had in store… a twi-night double-header against the Angels! Up to this point, Billy had been good on his word. The A’s were 7 – 3 while the Angles were 4 – 5. But come on? Its April! Ya had to figure this was like Jim Bouton’s line about how good he did playing against other kids until the big kids got out of school. Yep, the big kids had come to the Coliseum, and all we could do was hope for the best. But it was all good, Jim and I were going to see a real good team, the reigning American League West Division Champion, the California Angels.
And then it happened…Game one has Matt Keough v. Chris Knapp. Other than a lead off walk by Al Cowens, the Angles go down quietly in the first. Then the A’s come up. Rickey Hendrson grounds out to lead off (yea, we were disappointed) but Dwayne Murphy then hits a Double to right field past Dan Ford followed by another double to right by Dave Revering. Then Wayne Gross come up. Now, at this point, Dan Ford is having a bad day. As if the two doubles hit his way are not bad enough, he dropped an easy pop up in foul territory. Jim and I were right there behind the first base dugout and either one of us could have made that play. It wasn’t like he had to dive or anything. He just settled under it and it popped out of his glove. We in the stands could not let that go… the common refrain was “YOU SUCK”, clever, I know. Well, so Gross hits a pop up to Dan Ford… he just settled under it and the ball popped out of his glove and fell to the turf. Revering scores from second, Gross ends up at second. This was the last we would see of Dan Ford for the day. I guess Jim Fregosi got pissed off because he yanked Ford off the field. Well, by the third inning the A’s have scored 6 runs. Knapp lasts 2 2/3 innings and Keough pitches a complete game.
Now comes game two… Steve McCatty v. the Frank Tanana. Sure, Tanana had an off-year in 1979, but from 1975 to 1978 he averaged 17 wins, had struck out 872 batters and had an ERA of 2.78. Yea, we were looking at a split here. But low and behold, Tanana doesn’t make it out of the third inning. The A’s start beating Tanana like a red-headed step child. The third goes… error, bunt single, triple (Henderson!), single, double, double… and that’s when it dawns on us. The A’s had made the Angels look like shit. And the whole crowd, in a moment of group consciousness, expresses this realization by chanting…ANGELS SUCK…ANGELS SUCK… ANGELS SUCK…
The A’s didn’t win the division that year, that would come the next year, but Billy Martin was good to his word and the A’s finished above the Angels. Billy Ball electrified the Coliseum. The A’s were the A’s again with their brash aggressive style of play. It was fun while it lasted, but alas, it all crashed in 1982 and Billy was outta Oakland. But it seemed Billy Martin was a tortured soul who crashed and burned on a regular basis. Billy Martin drank regularly, and regularly drank to excess. He was a fighter, with players, umpires, management and bar patrons. He was a liar; he said he didn’t hit the marshmallow salesman, then said he did, said he did not call Steinbrenner a liar, then later admitted he did. Billy Martin was a cheater; he had his pitchers throw a spitter, he cheated on his wife. What I do know is that he was responsible for the most memorable moment I ever experienced at the ballpark and I’ll always love him for it.