Managers Protect Their Players

1973: Billy Goes to Bat for his Boys

Billy MartinResearch for my next book, about the OaklandA’s dynasty of the 1970s, to be published by Houghton Mifflin in 2015, has turned up boundless examples of unwritten rules from that bygone era. The latest is from September 5, 1973, and has to do the Detroit Tigers. The topic is ostensibly cheating, but, if we take it at face value, actually concerns managers protecting their players. From the Associated Press:

Billy Martin claims he lied about the incident which led to his being fired as manager of the Detroit Tigers.

Martin says he never told pitchers Joe Coleman and Fred Scherman it to throw spitballs in a game last week against Cleveland.

Coleman and catcher Duke Sims, meanwhile, also say Martin didn’t order spitters thrown.

“They had gotten together with Duke Sims in the dugout and decided to prove to the umpires that they (umpires) didn’t know what a spitter was,” Martin told one reporter. “The first I knew about it was when I saw Coleman wetting his fingers on the mound.”

“Once that happened I had to stand behind my players,” he continued. “I knew they’d be fined or suspended for what they had done, and I couldn’t let that happen. I needed them to pitch.”

Martin told newsmen after last Thursday’s 3-0 loss to the Indians’ alleged spitball specialist Gaylord Perry that he had ordered the illegal pitches to bring controversy “to a head.”

“I’m admitting it,” he said then. “We threw spitters tonight. Obvious spitters. On purpose.”

He said it was at his order.

Friday, Martin was suspended by American League President Joe Cronin, who said the action was taken “for directing your pitchers to throw illegal pitches and publicly stating that you have done so.”

Sunday, Martin was fired by Jim Campell, Tigers general manager, who said the spitball incident wasn’t the sole reason but the final straw in a long line of incidents leading to the sacking.

Bonus fun: Figure out how Martin created controversy with his 1972 baseball card, above!