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The Old Champ Went Down Swinging
Moss Klein
September 30, 1985
In one of his most bruising bouts, Yankee manager Billy Martin lost in a decision to pitcher Ed Whitson
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September 30, 1985

The Old Champ Went Down Swinging

In one of his most bruising bouts, Yankee manager Billy Martin lost in a decision to pitcher Ed Whitson

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BILLY MARTIN'S RING RECORD

Date

Opponent

Outcome

Record

May '52

JIMMY PIERSALL, of

Martin by TKO

1-0

July '52

CLINT COURTNEY, c

Martin by decision

2-0

April '53

CLINT COURTNEY, c

Martin by decision

3-0

July '53

MATT BATTS, c

No decision

3-0

May '56

TOMMY LASORDA, p

Martin by decision

4-0

May '57

(THE COPACABANA INCIDENT)

Martin traded

4-1

Aug. '60

JIM BREWER, p

Martin by TKO

5-1

July '66

HOWARD FOX, trav. sec.

Martin by decision

6-1

Aug. '69

DAVE BOSWELL, p

Martin by KO

7-1

April '71

REGGIE SMITH, of

No decision

7-1

April '72

JACK SEARS, fan

Martin by decision

8-1

Sept. '74

BURT HAWKINS, 60, trav. sec.

Martin by decision

9-1

Nov. '78

RAY HAGAR, writer

Martin by TKO

10-1

Oct. '79

JOSEPH N. COOPER, marshmallow man

Martin by TKO

11-1

May '81

TERRY COONEY, ump

Martin suspended

11-2

Aug. '82

OFFICE WALL

Wall by TKO

11-3

June '83

PORCELAIN URINAL

Martin by KO

12-3

Sept. '85

UNNAMED HONEYMOONER

Martin by decision

13-3

Sept. '85

ED WHITSON, p

Whitson by decision

13-4

The two fighters went at it, face-to-face, toe-to-toe. The bout was a classic match between the aging legend and the upstart challenger. The Riviera Hotel in Las Vegas? Holmes vs. Spinks? No, this fight was a three-rounder at the Cross Keys Inn in Baltimore, Billy Martin vs. Ed Whitson, and it happened about an hour after the Spinks fight was over on Saturday night. Martin, conceding 40 pounds and about four inches in reach, ended up with a broken right arm, a bruised right side and assorted cuts and abrasions. Whitson reportedly suffered both a cracked rib and a split lip.

The incident was the culmination of a bizarre week for both Martin and the Yankees, who at one point had lost eight straight games and as of Sunday night were 5� games behind first-place Toronto in the AL East. Actually, the Yankees had the fight taken out of them on Saturday, Sept. 14, when owner George Steinbrenner blasted them in the middle of their four-game series with the Jays. The Yankees went in the tank after that.

Two days later New York led Cleveland 5-3 after eight innings. But Martin let reliever Brian Fisher give up six runs in the ninth to lose 9-5. The manager put part of the blame on third-string catcher Juan Espino, of all people, for his pitch selection in the ninth.

On Tuesday in Detroit, Martin kept lefthander Ron Guidry in long enough to give up five homers in a 9-1 loss. On Wednesday, with the score tied 2-2 against the Tigers in the sixth and Yankee runners on first and third with two outs, Martin told lefthanded hitter Mike Pagliarulo, a former switch hitter, to bat righthanded against southpaw Mickey Mahler. Martin had plenty of righthanded hitters at his disposal. Detroit catcher Bob Melvin said to Pagliarulo, "What the heck are you doing?" Said one Yankee, "I figured Billy had a trick play, but after Pags took the third strike, I was thinking, 'Well, when's the trick going to happen?' " New York lost 5-2.

Nothing untoward happened the next night, except that the Yanks lost 10-3 to the Tigers. But Friday in Baltimore brought a whole new set of adventures. First, Martin scratched Whitson as the starting pitcher in favor of Rich Bordi. Martin told reporters that "Whatchamacallit," as he referred to Whitson, had a tender arm. That came as something of a surprise to Whitson.

Then Martin scratched his nose. It happened in the seventh inning with Alan Wiggins on first and Lee Lacy at the plate. When Martin rubbed his nose before the first pitch to Lacy, catcher Butch Wynegar recognized the sign for a pitch-out. With the count 2-0, Martin put his finger to his proboscis again, so Bordi threw another pitchout. No, Martin had not stolen the Orioles' signs. Rather, he had something inside his nose that was bothering him and simply forgot the significance of such an act. Bordi ended up walking Lacy, and Cal Ripken hit a game-winning single.

Later, in the Cross Keys lounge, Martin was talking with two young couples, one of whom had just been married. Martin bought a bottle of champagne for the newly-weds. The honeymooners eventually left, but a few minutes later the man returned and said to Martin, "You told my wife she has a potbelly." Martin replied, "I didn't say she had a potbelly. I said this woman [indicating the woman in the other couple] had a fat ass." Whatever, the two men began shoving. After some Yankee players intervened, Martin announced, "We'll take this outside." The champ did go outside a few minutes later, but he couldn't find the honeymooner.

The Yankees finally broke their losing streak on Saturday, although shortstop Bobby Meacham was thrown out of the game for, of all things, laughing. Meacham was chuckling to himself over a questionable call by umpire Joe Brinkman against New York. Brinkman said, "What are you laughing at?" Meacham said, "You." That did it.

The main event of the week came that night. At approximately 12:20 a.m. Martin was sitting in the Cross Keys lounge with Dale Berra and Berra's wife, Leigh. Martin and Berra were told that Whitson was having words with another patron, and they rushed to his aid. But when Martin got there, he claims Whitson turned on him, and suddenly they had their hands on each other. In Round 1, they tumbled to the floor and had to be separated by various Yankee personnel. Whitson later said Martin had "sucker-punched" him, a charge Martin denied. "That guy's crazy," said Martin. "I just tried to help him. What's the matter with him? Can't he hold his liquor?" Judges scored the round a draw.

Then the bell sounded for Round 2. Whitson, still under restraint, kept screaming at Martin, and Martin, never one to turn away from a good fight, kept advancing as Whitson was being pushed outside. As they neared the door, Whitson made a charge and, arms pinned back, kicked Martin in the groin. Martin, who was doubled over in pain, screamed, "O.K., now I'm going to kill you; now you did it." Round to Whitson.

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