Billy Martin wasn't reading the newspaper. He was leafing from back to front, not seeing the baby-thrown-from-window panic headlines. He wore his Yankee road uniform, unbuttoned, and chewed on an unlit cigar. Life is coming undone again for the eternal adolescent, now 55, and Martin spoke of enemies, seen and unseen.
He hadn't heard from George Steinbrenner. "Nothing." There was news from the American League: no punishment for the harsh language he used to chase a woman journalist out of his locker room last week. Shortly before that, in a bat-swinging rage, he broke the ceramic facility in the Cleveland clubhouse.
He apologized for sullying the throne, even promising to buy the Indians a new one, but no one yet has heard an apology from Martin to The New York Times researcher. The AL president, Lee MacPhail, said the league doesn't condone Martin's language (as reported by Martin and witnesses) but "the language used does not far transcend language" ballplayers use.
Well, a peg-legged pirate with one eye would have to wash his mouth out with soap if his mommy caught him saying the stuff you hear in a baseball clubhouse. The AL's absolution of Martin means nothing, other than that Billy the Kid has dodged another bullet. He did say today, setting an AL record for gall, that he hoped the flap didn't get the Times researcher fired.
"I'm getting tired of it," he said.
The way he said it, with a pity me/everybody hates me/nobody loves me whine, suggested that Martin had a way to end all this.
So he was asked, "What can you do about it?"
"We'll have to wait and see."
Presumably, Martin was suggesting he might quit, though that doesn't make sense when resigning would void a contract reportedly worth $1 million over five years. But reason has had little to do with Martin's behavior for 55 years, so why expect it now? For that matter, Steinbrenner is a stranger to common sense, too.
They are baseball's pariahs, Billy and George, a matched pair of outcasts who have given winning a bad name.
Ask Graig Nettles, the Yankees' third baseman, how the Billy-George conflagrations affect the team.
"It's been going on for a long time," he said. "We try not to get involved in it."
Ask Dave Winfield, the left fielder.
"Whether people think it's hype or what, it begins to wear on anybody . . . We just keep playing for their team and city."
Here two respected Yankees put distance between themselves and the pin-striped tar babies. Orioles' owner Edward Bennett Williams believes (or hopes) that the Yankees will suffer long-term damage because of the Bronx Wall separating players and management.
"They hate George so much they won't do anything for him," Williams said, and he used as example the Yankees' vote Monday not to make up a game here Thursday. "They have a competitive advantage on us (because of a pitching matchup), but they voted against it.
"Our guys would have voted to play. But not the Yankees."
He lifted his eyebrows, ever eloquently.
In the Yankee clubhouse, Martin had said he was tired of it and someone wondered what the psychic price had been. What would Martin be doing 10 years from now?
Still looking at his newspaper, Martin said, "I hope I'm alive 10 years from now."
Winfield's words were repeated to the manager. The conflict wears on anybody.
"It takes a lot out of you," Martin said. "You're considered guilty. You have to prove you're innocent. A guy in the paper today wrote that I didn't show up two times in Oakland.
"I called the owner in the clubhouse (Roy Eisenhardt). 'Roy, I'm sick, I'm throwing up.' Roy said go to bed. Now this writer has me leaving the ball club. Can't a manager get sick?"
Martin walked to the front of his office desk.
"The next time somebody writes, it'll be 'four times.' Then a 'dozen times,' 'two dozen.'
"I come to the park at 2:30 and take a nap until 5, three hours before the game. You pick up the paper and I'm sleeping through the game. Now they say my coaches have to remind me to bring in a relief pitcher."
Martin waved his cigar. He sat down at the desk. He touched a row of six nickels and pennies he had lined up just so, first a nickel, then a penny.
"The one thing anybody knows about me is that I never . . ."
His voice rose.
". . . NEVER take my eyes off the game. Sit in the stands and watch me."
The game between the lines is Martin's field of genius. It is hard to imagine Martin nodding off, as has been reported, or chatting with his girl friend, as reported, during games.
"I'm getting fed up with 'anonymous sources' about me," Martin said. "I don't have to sue any newspaper, but I am getting fed up with not using names. What the hell can I do? If it's a player, I can't fine him, I can't release him."
These sources are from inside the clubhouse?
"They're not. They say they are. What can I do about it? If a guy is playing good, he'll play. If he's playing bad, he ain't going to play, anyway."
Billy Martin wondered something.
"I wonder if it was coincidence that that woman came to our clubhouse that day."
He was asked, "What do you mean, 'coincidence'?"
Martin studied his row of coins. He said nothing.