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Mike Downey

Inflammable Man Is Sad, Not Amusing

September 25, 1985|MIKE DOWNEY

Ed Whitson is supposed to pitch for the New York Yankees Friday night, and I am picturing a funny scene.

Whitson gets bombed in the first inning. Billy Martin comes out of the dugout to take the pitcher out of the game. Whitson does not want to come out. Martin punches him in the eye. Whitson kicks Martin in the leg. Martin kicks dirt on Whitson. Whitson throws the resin bag at Martin.

The rest of the Yankees break up the fight. Order is restored. But in the dugout, Whitson goes to the water cooler, puts his thumb on the spout and squirts Martin in the face. Martin spits tobacco juice in Whitson's eye. Whitson twists Martin's already-broken arm into a hammerlock. Martin grabs a Don Mattingly-model bat and bops Whitson on the head.

The rest of the Yankees break up the fight. But in the clubhouse, Martin pushes Whitson into a locker. Whitson pours a jug of Gatorade over Martin's head. Martin grabs a can of Ron Guidry's hair spray and zaps Whitson in the face. Whitson picks up a hair dryer and blows the mist back at Martin.

After leaving the park, Whitson throws candy wrappers at Martin from the back of the bus. At the hotel, Martin disguises himself as a room-service waiter and clobbers Whitson with an ice bucket. They fall out a 13th-story window, still fighting in mid-air, only to have their fall broken by George Steinbrenner, who is just returning to the hotel.

Steinbrenner says no disciplinary action will be necessary, so Martin announces that Whitson will pitch again the following Wednesday.

Alcohol is the legal cocaine--different cokes for different folks--and it can do strange things to people. Billy Martin does not have to be in a bar to get into a fight, but it has happened to him more than once, and somebody ought to be concerned about him. I mean, too bad there is no such organization as Mothers Against Drunk Managers.

The Yankee manager's latest brouhaha was to get into sort of a to-be-continued brawl with one of his pitchers. He and Whitson mixed it up at a Baltimore hotel, scuffling in the bar, in the lobby and in the parking lot. Battling Billy wound up with a busted right arm, which should keep him out of more fights for at least another week.

This is not the first time Martin has gotten into a fight with a pitcher, one from his own team or one from somebody else's. This also is not the first time Martin has been seen in a saloon after midnight.

Neither fact makes him the most horrible human being in the world, but it is still rather sad. When Steinbrenner took Martin back as manager this season, for the umpteenth time, it was understood that Martin's drinking must be kept under control. Minutes later, of course, somebody suggested that the two men do a remake of their beer commercial.

With all the recent fuss over cocaine use by baseball players, it is sometimes forgotten how many sports figures have been felled by demon rum. Darrell Porter, the St. Louis catcher, can tell horror stories of his drinking, as can Bob Welch, the Dodger pitcher. Mike Norris, once a fine pitcher for the Oakland A's, never did completely recover. That is why they call them recovering alcoholics--because AA groups constantly remind their membership that once you are one, you will be one always.

When people hear about celebrities checking into rehabilitation centers to combat "drug and alcohol abuse," I get the feeling they sometimes do not hear the middle two words. To them, taking dope is one thing, but taking a drink is another. All you have to do is look around at a football game to realize how many people enjoy taking a drink, or two, or four, or six.

There is nothing new about this. I once read about a President of the United States from a previous decade who made a habit every day at dusk of mixing up a batch of martinis and relaxing after a long day. It never bothered me a bit.

And then one day I imagined something ludicrous, such as the Soviets attacking at 7 p.m. and the President being found snoring with an empty glass and six olives in front of him.

There is no sense starting a temperance movement here. Lots of people drink. I drink. I do not drink while I am working, but then again, neither does Billy Martin. Nor do I know what would happen if my boss and I started beating the tar out of one another in public some night, but I suspect that his boss would call in the two of us and tell us that we should be ashamed of ourselves.

What makes it different with Billy Martin is that this is not the first time it has happened. It happens so often, in fact, that to some of the general public it is getting boring, and to others it is just a big joke.

Well, it is not very funny at all. Billy Martin has a bad temper and he drinks. He is an inflammable man. But the beer commercials keep coming, with their yuks about what a good fighter Martin is, so we laugh and raise our glasses and make references to Billy the tough guy, Billy the dogie-puncher, Billy the mangler of marshmallow salesmen.

We even make jokes about Billy Martin breaking his arm in a vicious fistfight with one of the baseball players who plays for him. Sorry about that. It is a natural impulse to make a sick joke, but it also is everything you ever wanted from a compassionate human being--and less.

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