Jim Piersall of the Red Sox had the sharper tongue. But the Yankees’ Billy Martin had harder punches.
Baseball fans who saw Piersall give the Yanks’ second baseman a terrific “riding” from the bench during yesterday’s game at Fenway Park, were unaware the two had clashed in a pre-game fist fight under the stands in the runway leading to the dressing rooms.
The fight lasted only about 60 seconds. The decision went to the diminutive Martin. He got in two healthy socks at the Red Sox rookie infielder before Ellis Kinder, Sox pitcher, and Bill Dickey, Yankees coach, broke it up.
A feud between these two quick-tempered lads has been raging since the Red Sox’ recent series in New York. Yesterday during batting practice, Piersall – 6 feet, 175 lbs – was working at shortstop and Martin – 5 feet, 11 in., 150 lbs – was warming up with his teammates outside of third base.
The pair started hurling insults at each other. Martin invited Piersall under the stands. The Sox rookie accepted, tossed his glove and ran to the tunnel under the stands. Martin stuffed his glove in his back pocket and hurried around the batting cage after him.
Dickey, warming up too, noticed Martin on his way. He dropped his glove, yelled across the diamond to Sox coach Oscar Melillo, who was hitting grounders to the infield, to “break it up.” The only thing early comers in the stands knew was that the players on both teams suddenly swarmed to the tunnel.
Martin was brought up in San Francisco. A little guy, he had to fight his way out of jams. He’s had some amateur boxing experience. He landed on the bottom step and started swinging. He belted Piersall twice.
Kinder holds hat
The Red Sox rookie may have learned a fundamental of “street fighting” yesterday. He asked Kinder, who happened along, to “hold my hat” and as he did he got socked. He won’t worry about the hat next time – and from the way they were jabbering at each other through the game, there’s likely to be a next time. After getting hit twice, Piersall clinched. In the wrestling match, Jim’s shirt was ripped.
“He made some pretty bad remarks,” said Martin, who is 15 pounds underweight since his broken ankle. “I may be smaller than he is but I’ll fight anybody who makes those remarks to me. I hit him good twice and then he grabbed me and started to wrestle.”
Piersall was not eager to talk about the brawl. At first he said “forget it” but then he pleaded, “What’s there for me to say? He’s hot-headed. I’m hot-headed because I’m not playing. You would be too if you didn’t play. He was on me pretty good in New York. I don’t know why.”
The most surprised person was Kinder, who walked right into the fight. Ellis, who was scheduled to pitch, was walking nonchalantly down the runway bat in hand, for his pregame tickets.
“Jim rushes at me, says hold my hat,” explained Kinder. “I thought he was kidding with Martin. But then I see it’s no joke and step in between them. The Dickey comes along and grabs Martin while I hold onto Piersall. They stepped all over me. I’m lucky I didn’t get spiked.”
In a matter of seconds the place was swarming with players on both clubs. Vern Stephens looked at peacemaker Kinder.
“What a spot you are in,” he cracked. “You might have stopped a punch and wound up with a black eye.”
Melillo, who along with Dickey, rushed in to break it up, laughed as he thought it over when peace was restored.
“There was Dickey’s cap under the bench,” he said. “His elbow grazed my nose. He looked at me and said, ‘Heck, we’re too old to fight. A couple of swings and we’d be on the ground exhausted.”
Lou Boudreau, Red Sox manager, was changing his shirt when the fight started. He didn’t know the background for the bitterness between the players but he claimed Martin gave Piersall a terrific “going-over” in New York.
“I told Jim to stay on the bench and watch his language during the game,” he pointed out. “Other than that I didn’t stop him from ‘riding’ Martin.”
Piersall sat at the top of the dugout yelling at Martin and gesturing as if running a camera each time the Yankee came to bat. He also “rode” Martin in the field.