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Dugout Days:  Untold Tales & Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Career of Billy Martin

Dugout Days: Untold Tales & Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Career of Billy Martin

The first American Journeys book - Dugout Days:  Untold Tales & Leadership Lessons from the Extraordinary Career of Billy Martin - was written with the approval of Billy's son, Billy, Jr., and tells the story of how Billy the Kid became one of the greatest managers in baseball history through his aggressive, passionate, old-school approach to baseball.  Like few others, Billy could get into the heart of a ballplayer and bring out that player's greatness.  His "Billyball" methods sparked some of the most spectacular team turnarounds in baseball history and remain fresh in the minds of the players he taught, motivated, and led.

Dugout Days takes a fresh look at Martin's ability to positively impact not only his teams, but the lives of the players and personnel involved with those teams.  Billy Martin knew it was about more than just how you play the game, and in Dugout Days, we also get to see the side of Martin's off-field persona that is most often overlooked.  He truly affected those whose lives he touched and he had a great capacity for empathy.  He was a great, though flawed, man.

In this passage, we see a relationship develop between Martin and young Rod Carew, who was only just beginning his career as one of baseball's all-time great hitters.  Carew was quiet, lacked confidence, and at the time, greatly needed someone like Billy in his life:

In a 1983 Sports Illustrated feature, both Billy and Carew recalled the days of 1967, which would eventually see Carew emerge as Rookie of the Year.  Martin, then the Twins third base coach, recalled an incident where Carew actually walked off the field in the middle of the game.

According to Billy, "I followed him into the clubhouse and found him there crying.  He told me about his mom and dad (who were separating at the time).  I had come from a broken home myself, so we talked."  Rather than tell him that his personal problems had nothing to do with the game on the field, Martin talked with him, knowing that Carew's peace of mind was as vital to his batting stroke as his wrists and forearms.

Rod Carew:  I had heard so much about how hot-headed Billy was, he was tough to get along with, things like that, and I never saw that.  I never saw that person.  I saw a person that took a young kid, worked with him, and talked with him every day. He was always talking to me about what I wanted to do, where I was headed.  Just things that I think your dad would talk to you about.  And we became very, very good friends, very close friends.  If I had any problems, anything at all, I could always go and talk to him.  He would give me advice. I guess Billy saw something in me that he liked.  I liked to play the game, but I was a quiet kid.  He used to push me to be more aggressive on the field, talking more. He just saw something in me that he liked that he felt that he was going to draw out.  He had tremendous patience with me, because he knew that there were a lot of things that I had to learn, and I was still young, and I was still raw. 

With Carew, Billy showed compassion, and worked to bring his emotions under control.  The relationship that developed between Billy and Carew deepened over the years, as Carew became the dominant hitter of the era and Billy went on to great fame as manager of his beloved Yankees.  In July 1978, moments before Billy would be reintroduced as Yankee manager in a stunning Old Timers Day announcement, he was in hiding in a Yankee Stadium boilerroom.  Of all the people in the park that day who were special to Billy, it was Rod Carew he asked Ray Negron to bring in to see him. 

Rod Carew:  I was happy for him.  I knew the emotions that were going through him that day, and I wanted to go hug him. He became a very special part of my career, what I had done in baseball.  He became like a dad to me, and I was happy for him.  It was great to see him back, and I wanted to wish him the best.  He grabbed onto me and hugged me, and I said, "You're the greatest.  Everything that I have been able to achieve playing the game is because of you and how you took me under your wing and counseled me as if I was your son."  I was just happy to see him come back.  The man knew the game, and it's hard to keep people like that away from the game. 

Carew also made a wonderful gesture of thanks to Billy by having him as the godfather to his daughter Stephanie.  Billy had been there for Carew as a young players, and as a young man, and Carew never forgot what Billy had done for him. 

Rod Carew:  I couldn't have thought of anyone else that I wanted to be the godfather to my daughter, because we had become such good friends. I had learned so much from him.  Underneath, I had seen that he could be a very easygoing person, contrary to what everyone else thought.  He was like a father to me.  He taught me everything that I knew on playing the game.  If I needed advice on anything, I could go to him.  I felt comfortable going to him, I didn't have to worry about anyone else knowing about what we had spoken about.  And he became a father-figure to me, he became somebody that I admired as a person.  And there wasn't a second thought about asking him to be a godfather to my second daughter. 

In another passage, we see just how deep his love for the game of baseball went, and how, even as he sat and had fun with fellow baseball men, he was working, too:

Billy made his moves by feel, not by using numbers, formulas, or quantification.  Because he lived the game, the moves were in his blood, and his mind was constantly digesting information he was picking up in late-night conferences with the baseball men of his time.  The image of Billy as a good-timing, late night imbiber is true, but it is important to consider that Billy usually was still caught up in the game even as he sat in a bar or pressroom drinking with cronies.

Mickey Morabito:  Back then in the league, most of the stadiums had these press rooms -- like in the old Metropolitan Stadium in Minnesota.  After the game it became a bar.  The Bard's Room in Chicago in Comiskey Park was another.  The room on the roof they had up in Fenway Park in Boston.  And after every game, win or lose, Billy would get dressed and walk up there, because there'd always be some old-time baseball people there.  Chicago was the greatest.  When [Chicago owner Bill] Veeck had it, it was the greatest after-hours bar in the world.  They'd sit there 'til 3, 4, 5 o'clock in the morning, and because Veeck owned the team, he'd keep the bar open and tell the people to keep pouring. Billy would go up there with his coaches and they'd just talk baseball with everyone.  It was incredible.  Billy loved this more than anything else - sitting in a bar talking ball, especially with old-time baseball people.  There were times on getaway day I'd have to go up just to drag him out, because we had to catch a flight.  He loved talking about the game, talking about situations, and in a way maybe that is a 'natural'.

Ray Negron:  Win or lose, after those games he would be in the pressroom having his drinks, and everybody would be gathered around him. That's where he picked up a lot of stuff, from managers or coaches of other teams.  He worked those coaches.  Because you had to stop off there in order to go upstairs to the bus.  So right away as they're leaving, they know Billy's there, so everybody would go see Billy, and everybody would be around him bs-ing.  And Billy, he would volunteer a little to get a lot. He'd say, "This guy can't do this right now, he's not running now." And they think he's drinking too much.  He'd say, "My right fielders just not throwing the ball too good right now."  And boom, they try to use things against him that weren't true!  He did that a lot.

Bill Reedy:  I know scouts that would come to my place (the popular Reedy's Tavern outside of Tiger Stadium), when Billy was going to get in the playoffs, that were scouting other teams, they would come and give Billy a scouting report about the other team, because they all liked Billy.

 

Billy's coaches remember the camaraderie and also the work that would get done in these late night sessions, whether in bars, pressrooms, or on planes.

 

Jackie Moore:  That was the way of baseball then.  You didn't just play nine innings.  We would all assemble in a bar or wherever.  It was a 24-hour job.  A lot of scouts that would be at the game or a lot of baseball people knew, 'Okay, this is where I'll find the other guys, and that's where we'll be talkin' baseball.' A lot of your information would be one coaching staff or one manager talking to a club that just played the other club two or three days ago, just passing along the information.  And that's part of the game nowadays that's lost.

Charlie Silvera:  He'd have his whole staff, and after spring training games, we would go out down in Florida.  In Detroit we'd go have oysters and beer.  Texas, we'd go different places.  There was always someplace to go.  I was more or less his recording secretary.  He'd come up with some sort of an idea, he'd say, "Charlie, put that down, we'll do that tomorrow."  Sometimes I'd have a helluva time reading it after a couple of beers, writing in a dark bar, but you know, we got things accomplished.

 

Back in the dugout, he put that information to use, along with a fearlessness rivaled by few other managers.  He ignored the critics, something many managers today struggle to do, given the focus from owners, the media, and fans armed with their own blogs.  Billy played one way - to win - and he had the courage of his convictions, as is evident in this passage:

Billy learned to ignore naysayers while coaching third for Twins manager Sam Mele in the mid-60s when the two implemented their running game and saw it criticized heavily.

 

Sam Mele:  We had a Killebrew, a Lemon, a Bob Allison.  The big long ball hitters.  They struck out a lot and clogged the bases a little bit. And so in spring training, I said to Billy, 'Billy, I don't give a damn how many guys we have thrown out, let 'em stretch.  Let 'em score on a single, even if it's gonna be close.  Keep them running.  Keep them running.  Keep them running.'  And damn if they're not bitching about it up in the stands, 'What the hell's Billy doing?  He's getting a lot of guys thrown out.'  I protected Billy.  I said, 'Look, we talked about it, that's what we're going to do all year.  We want to make the outfielders - or infielders on a bunt - make mistakes because they're going to have to hurry their throws.  But don't blame Billy, I told him to do it.  We figure that's best for the club.'  And the damn thing got very infectious with the players all year long.  They took extra bases.  Billy sent 'em home.  Guys make a bad throw.  Squeeze plays - he had guys going halfway up the line.  If it was a swinging bunt, they'd score. 

Billy remembered Mele's support for the rest of his life.   Billy wrote that Mele told him, "Don't listen to anybody, Billy.  Don't pay attention to all that criticism.  I know what you're doing and I agree with you.  You just keep right on doing what you're doing.  Don't worry about anybody."  Later, Billy passed Sam's message on to his own coaches. 

 

George Mitterwald:  Billy used to say, "A lot of people second-guess me, but to me it's first-guessing because when I do something, I know exactly what I'm doing.  It may not turn out the way I want it to, but this is the way that I can beat the odds, and this is the way I'm going to do it."  But people didn't realize that.

But by learning to block out the expectations of others, and focus on his own goals, Billy grew as a manager.  

 

Matt Keough:  He just figured out where he could beat you.  It was unbelievable.  All of a sudden, where did these 20 complete games come from?  People were saying, "What is he doing?"  Well, what he was doing is he was winning.  I asked him one day, when I pitched the 14-inning game in Toronto, and Ron Luciano, who was working for Baseball's Game of the Week at the time, he had me fried after four innings, that I was out of gas.  But I asked Billy the next day, "How can you let me pitch 14 innings?  I mean, don't you know they're going to come after you?"  He said, "Matt, let me ask you this:  Who do you want me to bring out of the bullpen that's better than you were at the time?"  Well, argument's over.  There was nobody out there that could come in and throw the ball like I was at the time.  That was flattering, but it was also to the point, we're trying to win a ballgame.

When Billy was in that dugout, he was focused on winning the game, not what the owners, writers, or fans were thinking.  And he had guts. 

 

Tom Grieve:  Billy, he'd been fired.  I don't think he ever thought about being fired.  The only thing that mattered to him was winning, and he'd do it any way he thought that he could to win.  Whether it was a psychological advantage, whether it was taking a chance that didn't make sense to most so-called baseball people, he didn't care.  If he thought it gave him a chance to win, he'd do it, and if it looked like it was something that would be second-guessed, then big deal, 'Let 'em come and second-guess me.'

 

Tony LaRussa: The old adage is, "Manage from the gut and don't watch your butt," and I think you have to do that in order to be successful.  Billy was a very instinctive manager.  He wasn't afraid to make a move in the dugout.

 

Toby Harrah:  I remember, I had one of my better years, I drove in 90-something runs under him, and I think I drove in seven or eight runs just on squeeze plays.  He loved the squeeze play.  The reason he liked the squeeze play is because it can really disrupt the pitcher, it disrupts the defense.  It ticks everybody off, because here's a ball that maybe travels three or four feet that wins the game for you.  And Billy was great at using the squeeze play.  He never was like a lot of managers I've seen today.  They say, "Well, we just need that one extra run.  We need to get that extra run to get the five run lead."  These guys squeeze in the third inning of a ballgame, and I think, "Billy Martin would just puke if he saw guys squeezing in the third inning of a damn ballgame."  Billy would do it in the ninth, with the game on the line.  He would do it when it took guts.  Half the managers today don't have the guts to do it with the game on the line.  To execute the squeeze play, you have to have guts as a manager, and not really care about being second guessed.  And Billy didn't give a damn.

 

Charlie Silvera: I'll tell you what, he had more guts  than any man I've ever met in my life.  And he wasn't afraid to squeeze at home and steal home.  And it was exciting! There was a method to his approach.  Sort of a shock treatment.  Get out and get ahead.  Let them know that we're going to do things to keep on the attack. He had his own way of doing things, and he sort of revolutionized managing.

He revolutionized managing, and the fans remember that the most, but as the following passage shows, what his players remember now, over 20 years since his death, was the man and the spark he brought to their lives:

The players did love playing for him.

Bobby Meacham:  I loved playing for him.  He was a great manager.  He taught me a lot as a player and as an athlete, and that's what managers are supposed to do.

Mickey Klutts:  He just loved what he was doing, he just loved it.  He was always at the park at 2 o'clock and didn't want to leave until midnight and you know, a lot of guys in baseball owe him an awful lot.  I certainly do.  Every time I put the ring on, I think, 'He's the man!'  And all my friends, and all the guys in my era - he was the man!  It wasn't Tommy Lasorda or anybody like that.  I was real proud, and boy, the day he passed away was just awful.  It was a sad day.

Mike Pagliarulo:  The first thing that comes to my mind is I wish he was here.  I felt terrible, and I feel terrible now, even just talking.  That was a real bad day for me personally.  That's what I think of - I wish he was here.  I really miss that.  But I do think of him, and I think of all of these things very often.  I guess the thing I get most out of him, is that like I said, I was a quiet kid.  I didn't say too much.  But now I speak my mind.  I don't know, I'm just telling you this for the first time, but after Billy's accident I went to Minnesota, and I developed an appreciation for the game more. And whether Billy had something to do with that, I don't know, but I do carry that with me, and I spoke about that when we won the World Series, about some of the teachings and the camaraderie, basically.  Which is the part of the game that I miss most, and most players will probably tell you that as well.  And with Billy around, there was a lot of that.

Ray Negron:  I was just a little skinny kid, and he just took a liking to me.  He gave me his soul.  He gave me his heart.  This was Billy the Kid, but he was awesome.  He was a beautiful person.  He was wonderful to me. God knows Billy treated me great.  When I got released from baseball, Billy gave me a check to go back to school.  He wrote a letter to the bursar, because he knew a letter from him on Yankee stationary would have more of an impact and it would be easier for me to get in.  That was Billy.  I always enjoyed my one on one time with Billy, because it was just me and him at that moment.  For the longest time, I just didn't understand why he was so good to me.  I would question that a lot.  There's no question that Billy and Reggie were my two biggest influences in life.  In everything that I do, in how I behave and how I act.  My aggressiveness.  Everything is Reggie and Billy.  When Billy was bad, he could be bad, but when he was good, no one was better, and that's the bottom line.

Frank Lucchesi:  He's a guy that I can never forget.  I've had idols in my career, like DiMaggio.  And in music, Frank Sinatra.  Oh man, I'm a Sinatra fan.  And I put Billy in the category of guys that I idolized and thought a lot of, although those guys are older.

Charlie Silvera:  He's going to be dead 10 years Christmas.  I miss him.  People say, "What about Billy?"  So controversial 'til he died, and he still is now, and he always will be.  He just wanted to win. I think it was just the idea that he was a competitor, and he just had that will to win.  And he wanted to be somebody.  He wanted to finally be the Yankee manager.  I mean, that was his ultimate, and he ended up with that.  Billy, he did a great job.  Well, they say he couldn't last, he'd win, and then everything would get away from him.  He wasn't afraid to challenge people, challenge owners, challenge anybody.  He was different.  He was Billy Martin, and he wanted to succeed.  And in a way he did succeed.  And in a way, he wouldn't listen to anybody.

Furthermore, they loved him.

Willie Horton:  If you can't take something out of what he put out on the field, I don't think you'll get it from nobody.  And I'm not saying anything about anyone else.  I know Sparky, and I know Casey, but if you don't get nothing from Billy, and somebody don't see the leadership that he put on the field, I don't think you can see it in anybody.  I have so much great respect in Sparky, and I see he's going into the Hall of Fame.  Weaver.  But man, you can't leave Billy out of that.  Damn, if I had my choice, I'd play for Billy. With Billy, it was more than somebody that I worked for.  It was somebody that was close to me.

Rod Carew:  The smile on his face, the pat on the fanny, the confidence that he showed in me, I think about all those things.  When I made my speech for the Hall of Fame, it was a cloudy day, and all of a sudden, when I got to Billy's name, it started rumbling, and there was thunder.  I said, "Oh, that's Billy showing that he approves of what's going on today.  That he's proud that I got to the highest point of my profession."  I'm glad that I was able to talk to you about a man that everyone sees as being a troublemaker.  He wasn't totally that kind of person, underneath he was a very good human being.  I would have done anything for that man.

 

Charlie Manuel: He would tell me that he was proud of me for what I accomplished playing in Japan.  Clete would always tell him how good I was hitting, and he used to tell Clete that I never got a big chance in the big leagues, that people never really saw how good I could play the game.  Matter of fact, the last time I saw him, at the winter meetings, he started crying.  He told me, "Charlie, I've always pulled for you, man.  You know that."  And you know what?  He meant it. It really kind of made me feel kind of sorrowful.  The last time I saw him, that's how I remember him.

 

Mickey Rivers:  I know one thing, I said, "God bless him." I got to depend on him so much.  Every day he'll call me.  "How ya feeling?  How ya doing?"  I'd bring it up to people, I'd say, "Oh man, Billy do this for me.  Billy do that for me."  I didn't have to worry about nothing, because I know who had my back.  He did good things for people.