10,000 days since the Billy Martin-Ed Whitson fightby Chris Jaffe
January 28, 2013
10,000 days ago, a memorable baseball fight occurred. It was an unusual fight in one way because it pitted a manager against his own player. Then again, it was all too usual, because that manager was Billy Martin. Ultimately, it was the last fight in Martin’s baseball career.
Martin always had a reputation as a scraper. A tough kid from California’s Bay Area, he made it to the pros as an infielder and always got into some fights. Most memorably, after receiving a brushback pitch from hurler Jim Brewer, Martin attacked Brewer, beginning a brawl that resulted in Brewer suing Martin. That was just one of many fights Martin got in during his playing days.
As a manager, Martin remained a scrapper. As a rookie skipper with the 1969 Twins, Martin beat up pitcher Dave Boswell in an alley. As was the case in his playing days, there were many other fights for Martin, but aside from Boswell, not with his own players.
Not until Sept. 22, 1985—10,000 days ago. By this time, Martin was running the Yankees, and Ed Whitson was one of his pitchers. The Yankees were trying to hang on in the AL East pennant race, in second place behind Toronto, but 5.5 games back with two weeks left. They weren’t officially dead, but they were on life support.
That extra stress couldn’t have helped Martin’s temper when Whitson had a problem with him. Whitson’s problem was a classic one in player-manager relations: he didn’t like that, a few days earlier, Martin had pulled him from a game.
On Sept. 22, Whitson and Martin began arguing about it. Here’s a not-so-random detail: the argument took place at a hotel bar. So we’ve got an upset pitcher, alcohol, the stress and frustration of a team nearly out of the pennant race—and then throw in Martin’s famous temperament.
The argument turned into a fistfight, and when it was over, Martin had the worst of it, with a broken arm. Specifically, Martin had a broken ulna in his right arm and a bruised right side. Whitson hadn’t gotten off too easily, as he suffered a cracked rib and split lip.
Still, the fight showed the difference in age. Whitson was an aging 30-year-old, but Martin was an aged 57-year-old. No wonder he got the worst of it.
The injuries weren’t even the worst of it for Martin. The Yankees fired him at the end of the season, and most believed the Whitson fight played a big role. It shouldn’t be based on how the team played down the stretch, as the Yanks won nine of their last dozen games after the fight and nearly made the miracle comeback, falling just two games short.
This would prove to be Martin’s last big fist fight, and it was 10,000 days ago today.
Aside from that, many other baseball events celebrate their anniversary or “day-versary” today. Here they are, with the better ones in bold if you’d rather just skim through it.
2,000 days since the Dodgers are shut out for the third straight time. This hadn’t happened to them since the 1966 World Series.
2,000 days since Andruw Jones suffers his worst game ever, according to WPA. He’s 0-for-4 with a pair of GIDP for a –0.570 WPA.
2,000 days since Bruce Bochy notches his 1,000th managerial win. His record is 1,000-1,038.
4,000 days since Padres player Mike Darr dies in an early-morning car crash.
5,000 days since Steve Sparks hits three batters in a row, tying a record. He has four HBP in the game.
6,000 days since Edgar Martinez gets his 1,000th career hit. It takes him 905 games to get there.
6,000 days since the Yankees unveil a Mickey Mantle monument in Monument Park.
9,000 days since the Giants trade Jeffrey Leonard to the Brewers.
10,000 days since Ozzie Smith gets his 1,000th hit. It takes him 1,141 games.
1847 Baseball Hall of Famer George Wright is born.
1890 A judge refuses to grant an injunction against John Ward in the first of many lawsuits filed against the Players League.
1891 Bill Doak is born. He’ll pitch for 16 years as one of the spitballers grandfathered in when the major leagues outlaws it. He’ll also win 20 games in 1920.
1900 Emil Yde is born He’ll briefly be a sensation, going 16-3 with a league-leading .846 winning percentage as a rookie in 1924. They he’ll go 17-9 in his sophomore season. Alas, he wins just 17 more games over the rest of his career.
1901 The American League declares itself to be a major league and announce its eight teams will play 140 games each with 14-man rosters.
1906 Lyn Lary, AL infielder, is born. He’ll twice lead the league in plate appearances, in 1936 with the Browns and 1937 with the Indians.
1907 NL and AL presidents Harry Pulliam and ban Johnson meet to reduce conflicting dates in their leagues. They arrange that only 27 times will both leagues play in the same town on the same day.
1928 Pete Runnels is born. He’ll become a two-time batting champion, leading the AL in average in 1960 and 1962.
1934 Bill White is born. He’ll be a star on the 1960s Cardinals and later become the first black president of the National League.
1938 Still Bill Hill, 1890s pitcher who went 9-28 with the 1896 Louisville Colonels and also pitched for the 20-134 1899 Spiders, dies at age 63.
1947 The Phillies release Hugh "Losing Pitcher" Mulcahy. He wasn’t a good pitcher but was better than his nickname indicates. He was a workhorse on some utterly terrible squads.
1953 Cardinals owner Fred Saigh is found guilty of income tax evasion. He’ll spent 15 months in jail.
1954 The Giants purchase stud prospect Clint Hartung from Havana in the International League. He doesn’t pan out.
1956 Barry McCormick dies at age 81. He was a turn-of-the-century infielder who led the AL in games played in 1902, with 139.
1958 The A’s sign aged free-agent pitcher Murry Dickson.
1958 The Tigers finally obtain their first black ballplayer, Ozzie Virgil, in a trade with the Giants. Only the Red Sox have yet to integrate.
1958 Roy Campanella gets in a car crash that leaves him paralyzed for the rest of his life.
1961 The International League’s board of directors votes to move the Montreal club to Syracuse, New York.
1964 Vada Pinson is cleared of assault charges stemming from an incident on Sept. 5 the year before, when Reds sportswriter Earl Lawson opts not to pursuit the matter further against the player. Those two, obviously, had an incident.
1965 Billy Sullivan, starting catcher for the 1906 Hitless Wonder world champion White Sox, dies at age 89.
1967 In the January draft, the key players taken who will sign include Carlton Fisk (Red Sox), Ken Singleton (Mets), and Buck Martinez (Phillies). The Phillies also draft Dwight Evans, but he doesn’t sign.
1974 Two future White Sox sluggers are born, Jermaine Dye and Magglio Ordonez. Admittedly, Ordonez will have his most memorable moments with the Tigers, but both these guys played for many years with the White Sox.
1975 Junior Spivey is born.
1977 Lyle Overbay, first baseman, is born.
1980 Hank Aaron refuses an award from Bowie Kuhn for his career home run total. He’s displeased with how the league treats retired black ballplayers.
1982 Baltimore trades star third baseman Doug DeCinces to the Angels.
1986 Texas signs free agent catcher Darrell Porter.
1988 The Giants sign aging infielder Phil Garner for what will be his last season.
1993 Milwaukee signs free agent Tom Brunansky.
1993 Vern Kennedy dies at age 85. He won 21 games for the 1936 White Sox and lost 21 in 1939.
1994 The Padres sign free agent second baseman Harold Reynolds.
2000 The Devil Rays sign slow-working pitcher Steve Trachsel.
2001 Curt Blefary dies at age 57. He was the 1965 Rookie of the Year Award winner with Baltimore.
2002 Texas signs free agent pitcher Ismael Valdez.
2003 Florida signs free agent catcher Ivan Rodriguez, who will help them win a world title.
2003 San Francisco signs outfielder Jose Cruz Jr.
2004 Jose Lima signs with the Dodgers. He’ll pitch surprisingly effectively in his one-year in LA, then completely fall apart.
2009 Arizona signs free agent starting pitcher Jon Garland.
2010 Milwaukee signs free agent center fielder Jim Edmonds for his final season.
History instructor by day, statnerd by night, Chris Jaffe leads one of the most exciting double lives imaginable; with the exception of every other double life possible to imagine. Despite his lack of comic-book-hero-worthiness, Chris enjoys farting around with this stuff. His new book, Evaluating Baseball's Managers is available for order. Chris welcomes responses to his articles via e-mail. Oh, and now he's on twitter.