There he stood amid the tumult last week, arms outspread, a Gandhiesque apparition bidding the combatants desist. It was Billy Martin, onetime middleweight champion of the American League, playing peacemonger, a dove among hawks on this humid evening in Cleveland.
The trouble had started when Bill Denehy, one of Martin's necessarily busy relief pitchers, plunked Cleveland Catcher Ray Fosse in the rib cage with a pitch that Fosse demonstrably felt was ill-intentioned. Fosse dropped his bat, hurried to the mound and cross-body-blocked Denehy, who, in turn, kicked Fosse in the hand. Sniffing trouble, the Detroit Tigers' burly leftfielder, Willie Horton, rushed in to lay waste to any available Indian. Horton himself had been hit by a pitched ball in this tempestuous series—one of six Tigers and three Indians so abused—and he obviously felt that Fosse's protest was, if not unprovoked, definitely unwarranted. The battle was joined, and the diamond was soon aswarm with flailing ballplayers. When Martin, the umpires and other assorted pacifists finally restored order, Indians Fosse and Gomer Hodge and Tigers Denehy, Horton and Ike Brown had been tossed out of the game.
Martin publicly deplored the violence but privately confided later in the evening that he was "proud of the way my boys hung in there together." It is Martin's contention that he has, in fact, molded a team out of many disparate elements and that, ball game or brawl, his charges hang resolutely as one. The reason for this, he says, is "communication," a word Martin tosses off as authoritatively as any urbanologist. As a baseball manager, he considers himself a combination father, brother, psychiatrist, teacher and cop. The many roles exact a terrible toll on his nervous system, but he gamely perseveres in transforming a dismal mediocrity into a legitimate contender for the American League pennant. The Tigers finished fourth in the league's Eastern Division a year ago, 29 games behind Baltimore. This season they have doggedly remained within striking distance of the Orioles, and Martin is certain that with unity they'll overtake them in the end. In the weekend Cleveland series the Tigers were 2-2 and by Sunday evening five games behind the Orioles.
"My job," Martin said, "is to get the most out of a player. This involves attention to little problems, things that may seem petty to the average person but are big things with the ballplayer."
At approximately this moment, Horton—for all of his ferocity, something of a hypochondriac—stopped by to advise Martin that his back, apparently injured on the bus ride from Detroit, was healing nicely. Martin smiled and wished him continued good health.
"This was a very unhappy club a year ago," he continued. "I had to find out why, so I talked to everybody individually. It wasn't really anybody's fault—just a hell of a lot of people's fault. Now we're a team, a happy team."
Martin's testimony is corroborated by those of his players who were around in less happy days when, according to one of them, "People who paid their way into our games were being gypped."
Norm Cash, the droll first baseman who is enjoying his best season since he won the league batting championship a decade ago, subscribes to Martin's hypothesis that familiarity does not inevitably breed contempt.
"A manager shouldn't be put on a pedestal," says Cash democratically. "He should be one of the guys. Billy is."
Congeniality alone may not be credited with the Tigers' rejuvenation. The trade with Washington that relieved them of the burdensome Denny McLain and filled in the vacant portions of their infield with Aurelio Rodriguez and Ed Brinkman has obviously been influential. Defense, as represented by these newcomers, and power through the lineup are Tiger strengths. Pitching is not, but even those pitchers Martin so regularly sends to the showers concede he has an uncanny instinct in such matters.