Former Twins president Howard Fox died this week at the age of 90. Ordinarily, this might not be a major story for Yankee fans, but the name of Howard Fox should ring a bell for fans and followers of the late Billy Martin. During the 1966 season, when Martin was serving the Twins as a coach, he brawled with Fox, who was the team’s traveling secretary at the time. It might have marked the first time in history that a coach actually punched out his own team’s traveling secretary.
So what led to the fight between Fox and Martin? As the Twins were taking a charter flight to Washington, Martin became intoxicated and began using foul language. Fox took offense because his wife Yvonne was on the plane, well within earshot of Martin’s choice words. Fox, a no-nonsense type, was furious with Martin over his lack of delicacy.
After the Twins arrived at the hotel, Martin became one of the last members of the team’s party to receive his room key. Martin felt that Fox, who was also in the lobby, had intentionally delayed his room key. The two men started screaming at each other. Within a few minutes, fists began flying. Both combatants came away with bruises, but hotel witnesses gave Martin the win by decision.
The incident initiated a long feud between Martin and Fox, who never forgave Billy the Kid. In fact, Fox would play a role in firing Martin only three years later.
The fight with Fox marked only the first major tussle of Martin’s tenure in Minnesota. By 1969, Martin was the Twins’ manager; that August, he tangled with pitcher Dave Boswell in an alley behind a Detroit bar. (Imagine that, Billy in a bar.) The incident’s roots might have been planted at the ballpark, when Boswell refused Billy’s order to run 20 warm-up laps along with the rest of the Twins’ pitchers. Outside of the bar, Boswell began sparring with veteran Twins outfielder Bob Allison. Hearing about the fight, Martin ran outside, ostensibly to break up the altercation, with pitching coach Art Fowler joining him to offer moral support. Well, Billy’s notion of breaking up the fight involved hitting Boswell in the face with his fist. Again and again. Martin won by knockout, though it hardly seemed like a fair fight given the presence of both Fowler and Allison.
The pummeling left Boswell unconscious, and in need of 20 stitches. Yet, Boswell held no grudges. Many years later, when asked about Martin for a 1988 magazine article, Boswell said: “I love Billy.”
Fox did not. Spurred on by the embarrassment caused by the Boswell brawl, Fox convinced Twins owner Calvin Griffith to fire Martin after the Twins were swept by the Orioles in the first ever American League Championship Series. And thus began the long string of firings that involved Alfred Manuel “Billy” Martin.
Speaking of Martin, he once employed a seven-man rotation during the tumultuous 1988 season. Now there is talk of the Yankees adopting a six-man rotation once Bartolo Colon and Phil Hughes emerge from the disabled list. Colon, who is expected to start on Saturday against the Mets, will take the place of journeyman right-hander Brian Gordon. With regard to Hughes, who may come off the DL next week, there is no logical candidate to be sent out to Scranton/Wilkes Barre or to be demoted to the back of the bullpen. At the moment, A.J. Burnett, Freddy Garcia, and Ivan Nova are all pitching well.
It’s a pleasant problem to have, but the talk of a six-man rotation is silly. By going to a six-man rotation, the Yankees would be tinkering with the rhythm of their starters, all of whom are accustomed to five days rest. They would also be limiting the use of CC Sabathia, their best pitcher and one of the game’s few legitimate aces. Can the Yankees really afford to shrink the number of starts that Sabathia makes, particularly in a season when it looks like they will be in a dogfight with the Red Sox and the Rays? No. The more sensible approach would be to move either Nova or Garcia to the bullpen as a long reliever, with the ability to spot start of the situation mandates. And please, no more talk of keeping Nova or Garcia “stretched out.” Nova and Garcia have been fully prepared to start for half a season now; they’re capable of going to the bullpen for awhile and then returning to the rotation sometime in August or September.
Although I was never a big fan of Sergio Mitre during his first stint in pinstripes, I have no problem with his return to Yankeeland. Whenever you can acquire a pitcher who was putting up respectable numbers, as Mitre was doing in Milwaukee, without giving up anything more than money, it’s a good deal.
Pitching out of the Milwaukee bullpen, Mitre posted a 3.27 ERA and allowed 30 hits in only 33 innings. His strikeout-to-walk ratio (14 to 10) was unimpressive, but you can’t have everything when it comes to a 12th man on a pitching staff. Mitre is certainly better than Buddy Carlyle, the journeyman reliever who was designated for assignment to make room on both the 25 and 40-man rosters. Mitre has actually pitched decently in relief for the Yankees. The sinkerballer also has the ability to go three or four innings a time, an ability that escapes most of the Yankee relievers. As long as Joe Girardi keeps him out of the starting rotation, Mitre should be able to help in a small role.
As an added bonus, the Yankees now have both Mitre and Chris Dickerson, who was acquired from the Brewers in the original Mitre deal, without having surrendered any actual talent in exchange. In contrast, Milwaukee has only a small amount of money–and you can’t play money .
Bruce Markusen writes “Cooperstown Confidential” for The Hardball Times.