Wednesday, June 2, 2010

"Tales from the Dugout" #1: Billy Martin

Here is the first post in my “Tales from the Dugout” series, a collection of stories that were taken from the 1997 book Tales from the Dugout: The Greatest True Baseball Stories Ever Told. Today’s post features a humorous tale about the infamous Billy Martin. Enjoy! Although he had his moments, especially in the 1953 World Series when he won the MVP Award for batting .500, Billy Martin was not a great player. In a way, his playing career as a heady, super-aggressive second basemen was merely a training period for his real vocation as a major league manager.

Whenever Martin took over, a team immediately played better, smarter, and more aggressive baseball. A master of the rule book, a great teacher, and a keen motivator, Martin was, above all, the most intense of competitors, who would do anything to win a ball game. Billy was always looking for an edge, and he often found one… but not always.

As the manager of the New York Yankees, Martin made a strange move during a 3-2 loss to the Detroit Tigers on September 18, 1985, that Yankees fans are still trying to figure out.

With the score tied and two runners on base, the Yankees’ left-handed-batting third basemen, Mike Pagliarulo, went up to bat against the Tigers’ Mickey Mahler, a left-handed pitcher. Martin ordered Pagliarulo to bat right-handed. Now, it’s true that ‘the book’ dictates that ideally you pit a right-handed batter against a left-handed pitcher, but Pagliarulo had never before batted right-handed in his major league career. ‘Pags’ did as he was ordered, and the rest of the Yankees watched in curious and confident anticipation.

Yankees designated hitter Don Bayler recalls, “I was sure it was a trick play. Billy’s famous for trick plays.

“After strike one, I was thinking, ‘Okay, now comes the trick.’ Nothing happened.

“After strike two, I figured, ‘Okay, here it comes.’ Nothing.

“Then it was strike three, and I found out what the trick was: the trick was on us.”

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