From the late 1960’s until the mid- 1980’s I could be easily found on a Saturday afternoon- I was usually in front of the television watching the baseball “Game Of The Week” on NBC. One of the most memorable games that I witnessed occurred forty years ago today. The New York Yankees were facing the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston.
To set the scene- when Yankee owner George Steinbrenner signed Reggie Jackson after the 1976 season everyone who followed baseball’s first thought was- this should be interesting- Reggie Jackson being managed by Billy Martin. In spring training Reggie sounded off claiming he was ‘the straw the stirred the drink” whereas the Yankee Captain Thurman Munson could stir the drink but would only stir it badly. Munson, the catcher and captain of the Yankees was a gruff man and needless to say this didn’t go over well with him or his Yankee teammates or with Billy Martin. Billy Martin was a notorious drunk who had more fights in his career than Sugar Ray Robinson- and some of the fights were with his own players. Billy was brilliant baseball man, a great manager when managing a game but away from the field couldn’t manage himself. Let’s also say about his drinking -he wouldn’t fall into the ‘happy drunk’ mode. Billy was full of fire even when he was sober.
So everyone who followed baseball knew this day would come. Reggie wasn’t Billy’s kind of player. Reggie was a Hall of Fame talent with an ego to match. I’ve followed baseball for 50 years and I can’t think of any player whose ego matches Reggie’s.
I will attach a game story from that day- from the New York Daily News– but here is basically happened before a national audience.
Red Sox slugger Jim Rice hit a single to right field, Reggie was lollygagging out in right field and Rice who wasn’t a speedster took advantage and turned a single into a double. Billy had enough. In baseball you never remove a player other than a pitcher from a game at this time -during the time the half inning is being played- other than a pitcher- unless say a player is hurt. Reggie wasn’t hurt. Keep in mind Reggie is a very prideful man. What does Billy do? After this play he calls time out and walks out to the mound- but also with him is Paul Blair- an outfielder not playing that day- Blair heads to right field. Reggie looks confused- he’s being taken out of the game. At this point I can remember watching it- and knowing what is going to happen next- Billy and Reggie are going to go at it. They didn’t disappoint- when Reggie gets to the dugout they start jawing at each other and then going after one another. Yankee coaches Elston Howard and Yogi Berra get between them and separate them. Reggie was the one who started the thing and well Billy Martin was never one to back down when challenged. The entire story as it was reported then below… The Yankees would go on to win the World Series that season. Which goes to show how much team chemistry is over-rated. Sparky Lyle’s book on those Yankees “The Bronx Zoo” wasn’t called that for nothing. Yet they won.