Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Time I Met Billy

Courtesy of
by Al Vick (Milwaukee, WI)

One late afternoon in New York City, I finished a business meeting at a company on 42nd street and 2nd avenue and walked across the street to the Grand Hyatt where I was staying for a couple of days. When I walked into the lobby, I paused to consider my options for the evening. I had wanted to see a Broadway show, but decided the large open air bar was just too inviting.

As I walked up the few stairs in that direction, I recognized Billy Martin - from the back. He was sitting alone and at first I was hesitant to disturb him, but having been a Billy Martin fan all of my life, I simply had to take a chance. I walked up and sat down next to him at the bar and quietly said, "Mr. Martin, I'm sorry to bother you, but I was wondering if you would mind signing an autograph for me. I have been a fan of yours since I was seven years old watching the New York Yankees play the Milwaukee Braves."

Not only did Billy give me that autograph, but also posed for a picture with me as we proceeded to talk about baseball, life, our families, and we named every player on those great 1957 and 1958 Yankee and Braves teams. That picture is hanging on the wall right behind me as I type this.

Billy was in New York at this time making a commercial with Alexis Arguello for Miller Lite and although he told me he didn't want to spoil it for me by telling me what the commercial was about, he proceeded to act out the whole thing about five times - and I laughed harder every time ("Who is dis Billy Martin anyway" - "I got tomeet dis guy", maybe you remember it).

Billy invited me to have dinner with him and Alexis Arguello, but it didn't work out. I offered to buy him a drink several times, but Billy kept checking his watch and although I never saw him actually order a drink, the bartender seemed to never let his glass get empty.

The dinner plans fell through, but Billy had Tex, his driver, drive me around Manhattan in "Billy's Limo", which was really cool with baseball opera windows and the like.

Billy wasn't managing the Yankees at this time (March, 1985), but he assured me that George Steinbrenner would be hiring him again soon. When the season started and Yogi Berra was still the manager, all of the guys in Milwaukee figured I was full of you-know-what until 17 games into the season, George fired Yogi and, sure enough, hired Bill again.

Billy told me he wanted to meet my Dad, who was also a huge fan of his, when the Yanks came to Milwaukee that season. I took my Dad to the first game after Billy was named manager, but try as I might, I could not get his attention as he walked to the dugout while doing his best to ignore the dozens of people yelling at him.

I was terribly saddened when I learned of Billy's untimely passing. I don't know if I can be considered the authority on Billy Martin's behavior, but I don't believe Billy ever picked a fight in his life. I just think a lot of people picked fights with Billy. The two hours I spent with Billy showed me a generous, kind, entertaining, friendly, sincere, honest, and likable person.
And I'll fight anyone who says anything to the contrary.

Al Vick lives in Milwaukee.
Courtesy of

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