Billy Martin's job security seemed more tenuous than ever tonight when club owner George Steinbrenner issued a statement about the latest in a succession of incidents involving the New York Yankees manager.
Steinbrenner, through team publicist Ken Nigro, told reporters he had talked with Martin following reports Martin had cursed a New York Times reporter Friday, "but by no means is everything okay. It's not going to be okay until we get to the bottom of it."
The New York Daily News, in its Sunday editions, reported that Steinbrenner was waiting to see what action the American League would take against Martin regarding the incident. The paper said there was a possibility Martin could be found in violation of a clause in his contract regarding "actions detrimental to major league baseball and the Yankee baseball club." The paper said Steinbrenner would then have a case to declare Martin's five-year, $1.5 million contract void.
The Associated Press quoted a club insider as saying that Martin was likely to lose his job by Monday. United Press International also said Martin would be fired.
Things started to heat up Friday afternoon when Steinbrenner demoted Art Fowler, the Yankee pitching coach and Martin's longtime friend, to the team's AAA club in Columbus. By several accounts, Martin was angered by the move and later yelled at a New York Times reporter, Deborah Henschel, who was doing a survey on the All-Star Game.
Although Martin denied that he shouted obscenities at the woman, Steinbrenner said he had been contacted by the American League and that its president, Lee MacPhail, was investigating the charge.
"Billy denied the obscenities," Steinbrenner said. "The front office is concerned. The American League is investigating, and we also are looking into it. The charges are serious if true.
"We will continue to cooperate with the league in this investigation.
The Baseball Writers Association of America sent MacPhail a telegram expressing concern about the alleged incident and asking the commissioner to give "your immediate attention to the unjustified conduct."
Martin denied he verbally abused the reporter and gave his own version of the incident. "She came in the clubhouse, she walked in uninvited and not dressed very nicely," Martin said, adding that he then told her to leave.
Of the cursing accusations, he said, "I know I didn't say those things. I could take a lie detector test."
Martin also scoffed at rumors that he would be relieved as manager by Fowler's replacement, Jeff Torborg. Howard Cosell reported on ABC Saturday that Torborg would replace Martin. "I can dismiss it (the report) because it is someone trying to get the first shot on everybody else," Martin said.
Torborg said he had heard the report that he would succeed Martin "but it has no credence in my way of thinking because we've had no conversations at all. We've got a manager. That's all."