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Remembering the Great Yankee Manager Billy Martin

Remembering the Great Yankee Manager Billy Martin

Yankees manager Billy Martin as a word with his pitcher Ed Figueroa. (Jerry Coli/Dreamstime.com)

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Friday, 27 December 2019 12:27 PM Current | Bio | Archive

2019 represented many weird and difficult things in my personal life. Some are happy, some not so happy. Sometimes you go through such difficult things in life that you feel like a hunter trying to get certain moments and feelings back.

This year started very difficult for me because I lost, as I said in an earlier article, one of my three baseball fathers, Tom "T-Bone" Giordano, who had one of baseball's greatest minds and became one of the game's greatest scouts. I naturally still haven’t gotten over that one because he was in my life every day.

For almost 40 years he would remind me of how important I was in this world. I miss his morning call and those monthly breakfast dates at Rosie’s Greek diner with T-Bone, Rob Drum, and Billy C.

Last week, we lost the wonderful actor, and my buddy, Danny Aiello.

I would have been going to his annual Christmas show with my pal Aris this week and Danny would have given us a “shout out” and then after the show he would have asked us if we heard him scream out for us. Just like T-Bone, Danny always made you feel Important. People like this will live on forever in our hearts.

This week is an extremely difficult time for me and so many others because it marks the 30th anniversary of the death of the great Yankee manager, Billy Martin.

To me Billy was baseball's version of Frank Sinatra. He was truly bigger than life. The fact that I would get to be in the presence of Mr. Sinatra both at Yankee Stadium during the 1976 playoffs and on several occasions at Patsy's, the famed Manhattan Italian restaurant on 56th street and Broadway, I would get to know him a little bit. However, it was enough to be able to make such a strong comparison in these two incredible men.

Billy, like all of us, had his issues. However, unlike most of us he had one of the great hearts of all time. Billy was a very strong-willed man who was not afraid of anyone. I actually fought in the 1976 Boxing Golden Gloves at his urging. He had a speed bag in our gym at Yankee Stadium and gave me lessons. He was actually very good with very fast hands.

In 1979, Billy and Mr. Steinbrenner urged me to go back to college to take some courses on what they called “records and analysis” or something like that, which 40 years later in baseball is known as “analytics.” The Boss and Billy the Kid were actually talking about this way back then.

People think that all the Boss and Billy did was argue but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I used to marvel at the conversations that these two great men used to have. What I really loved was the fact that Billy was learning business from the Boss and the Boss was learning baseball from Billy. The thing that I really loved was the fact that they would allow me to sit with them when all of this was going on.

I got to understand a very complicated relationship and learned how in life if you truly love someone, you could always find forgiveness in your heart for someone’s short comings. I learned that we are not perfect, as in the case of these two great men. They were strong and powerful in their world but they were also kind and gentle beings to the people that were not connected to the organization. On many occasions I saw Billy give whatever cash he had in his pocket to the guy in the street, begging the person to make sure that they got a meal.

In the winter of 1978 Billy opened up a western store on 73rd St. and Madison Ave. Billy asked me to come work for him at the shop doing inventory. So the winter of '78, I would go to Yankee Stadium in the morning, if the Boss was in town, then I would go to Reggie Jackson’s on 79th St. to answer fan mail and whatever errands Reggie needed done, and then I would go to Billy’s shop in the evening.

Some people were fascinated at the fact that I would have this kind of relationship with three such complex individuals. However, they were not complex at all if you got to know the wonderful hearts that they had. I will never forget someone once asking me how I was treated by these men and I was proud to answer like I AM SOMEBODY.

In November of 1989, I became the General Manager of the St. Lucie Legends.

The Legends were part of a senior baseball league that was formed for players 35 years of age and older that had played in the Major leagues with aspirations of getting back.

The Miami team had Earl Weaver, the West Palm Beach team which was owned by John Henry, the present day owner of the Boston Red Sox had Dick Williams so naturally my first call was to Billy Martin. Billy thanked me profusely and let me in on a secret. He said that the reason that he couldn’t do it was because he was pretty sure that the Boss was going to bring him back as a manager. As a matter of fact, he was the one who urged me to hire Graig Nettles as my Legends manager.

Well unfortunately that was the last time I got to talk to Billy Martin. Billy would go to Tampa and speak with Mr. Steinbrenner and then Billy would go to a Christmas event for underprivileged kids with the Boss and read "‘Twas the night before Christmas."

On the evening of December 25 my phone would ring in my St. Lucie apartment. It was my friend, senior news writer for ABC news, Mort Fleishner. He told me that my friend Billy Martin has been killed in a car accident.

My heart instantly broke. Tears ran down my face and I felt as if I had lost my power to breathe. I literally fell to the floor. The last time this happened was when Thurman Munson was killed in an airplane accident ten years earlier. However, at that time I had Billy to help me stand up. I only wish I could have helped him more.

Ray Negron is a sports executive with over 40 years of experience in baseball. His first job came from a chance encounter with George Steinbrenner as a youth. He has become an American film producer, a best-selling author, and a philanthropist. His memoir is entitled, "Yankee Miracles: Life with the Boss and the Bronx Bombers." For more of his reports, Go Here Now.

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RayNegron
2019 represented many weird and difficult things in my personal life. Some are happy, some not so happy. Sometimes you go through such difficult things in life that you feel like a hunter trying to get certain moments and feelings back.
billy martin, yankees, tom giordano
1134
2019-27-27
Friday, 27 December 2019 12:27 PM
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