In a season of bickering and intramural fighting, it should not have come as a surprise to anyone. But another Yankee time bomb went off yesterday, and this one carried a shock wave strong enough to shake the foundations of the defending American League champions.
That a sellout crowd at Fenway Park and a national television audience happened to have the whole show in clear view probably had little bearing on the near-brawl between Mgr. Billy Martin and his star right fielder Reggie Jackson. But it didn’t fail to lessen the impact.
“I only ask one thing as a manager,” fumed the fiery and unpredictable Martin. “That my players hustle. I told them this spring that if you show the club up, I’ll show you up.
“We only play the game one way - to win. I expect a player to give 100 percent. His best. I don’t mind errors. They’re a part of the game. But if you don’t hustle, I don’t accept it.”
Who’d ever have thought that a turning point in the torrid division race could be a seemingly innocent half-swing double by Jim Rice in the bottom of the sixth inning? Reggie Jackson, the $2.9 million dollar slugger, had to run a long way from deep right field to get to the ball that blooped about 100 feet between second baseman Willie Randolph and Jackson. Martin, apparently surmising that it was a lack of hustle by Jackson that allowed Rice to continue to second on the hit, paid him the ultimate indignity by removing his right fielder in the sixth inning, yesterday at Fenway Park.
Jackson trotted off the field, with Paul Blair taking his spot, and into a full-fledged controversy. His exchange with Martin became so heated that coaches Elston Howard and Yogi Berra were called upon to restrain both men. The world doesn’t have to hate the Yankees anymore. They’re beginning to hate one another.
“Words were said,” fumed Martin, “that I didn’t like. What they were are between me and Reggie and I’ll talk it over with him tomorrow.
“How could I do it in a close game? (Boston was leading, 7-4). We won last year without him, didn’t we? All a player who plays for me has to do is what I ask. And I ask all my players to hustle. It doesn’t take ability to hustle.”
Martin was asked if he thought the whole issue was bad for baseball, since the game was on national television. In fact, one player on the Yankee bench tried to place a towel over the NBC camera that shot directly into the dugout.
“I’m not going to manage any differently because the game was on television,” said Martin. “I don’t care if it went over the whole world. Do you comb your hair differently because it’s a television game? In fact, I don’t like the question. It’s pretty fresh. Because this was a television game, I wasn’t going to wait a week.”
Yankee club president Gabe Paul reserved judgment on the incident until he had a chance to talk to both parties. Paul and Martin chatted briefly during the remainder of the game, but nothing was said, according to Martin.
“Billy played it very cautious,” said Paul. “There are various ways to handle a situation like that. It’s obvious that Billy thought this was the best way to do it. It’s not good, but it’s not the end of the world.
“I prefer that it didn’t happen. But it did happen and there’s nothing more to be said about it. You’re always going to find altercations with winning teams. I don’t care about it being on national television. Our problems are our problems and we’ll handle them.”
The final word, oddly, came from the Red Sox clubhouse and from none other than Bill Lee, regional chairman of the Billy Martin Fan club. “It’s a two-way street. I can’t fault Martin for what he did, just the way he did it. I don’t condone not hustling and not being in the game. But you can’t reduce it to emotionalism.”
Oh yes, Bernie Carbo had this to say: “I wanted to see a fight.”