New York Mets Manager Mickey Callaway did not win either news conference Monday, one day after he cursed out Newsday beat reporter Tim Healey following a bad loss to the Chicago Cubs on Sunday. In his first meeting with reporters, he appeared uncontrite and notably did not apologize to Healey, merely saying that he “can control my reactions better, absolutely.” Then, after just about everyone noted what was missing from Callaway’s initial comments, he called reporters into his office for another news conference in which he said he had apologized to Healey and regretted “the distraction it’s caused to the team.”
It wasn’t the greatest day in Mets history, and Callaway only dug a deeper hole when he decided to bring up Billy Martin, of all people.
It’s unclear, from the above clip and from all of the reporting on Monday’s news-conference doubleheader, whether Callaway was comparing himself to Martin or merely bringing up the fiery former manager in a “these things happen” sort of way. In either case, Callaway probably should have left that part out of his explanation, because Martin was hardly a role model of levelheadedness, managerial or otherwise.
In November 1978, Martin was between the first and second of his five stints as Yankees manager, having stepped down in July of that year after a series of confrontations with New York slugger Reggie Jackson and team owner George Steinbrenner. But he still was entwined with the team: Just a couple of days after his resignation, Yankees public-address announcer Bob Sheppard stunned the crowd at Old Timers’ Day by announcing — on instructions from Steinbrenner — that Martin would return as Yankees manager, but not until the 1980 season, some 21 months later.
This odd interlude only became more strange on the night of Nov. 10, when Martin attended the inaugural game of the Western Basketball Association — a minor league that lasted all of one season — between the Reno Bighorns and the Vegas Dealers. Bighorns Coach Bill Musselman, a friend of Martin’s, had asked him to help promote the game, so he showed up at Reno’s Centennial Coliseum to pose for pictures and address the crowd. But after that he retreated to the arena’s bar, where he was approached at halftime by Ray Hagar, then a 25-year-old sportswriter for the Reno Evening Gazette and the Nevada State Journal.
In 2014, Hagar told Martin biographer Bill Pennington that an intoxicated yet “cordial” Martin agreed to answer a few questions but became irate when Hagar brought up Jackson and also informed him that the Yankees had earlier in the day traded Sparky Lyle and Mike Heath, two of Martin’s favorite players, to the Texas Rangers. Martin demanded to see Hagar’s notes but the reporter refused, holding them behind his back to elude his grasp. And that’s when Martin started throwing punches, hitting Hagar “several times,” the reporter told the Associated Press in a story that ran in newspapers across the country two days after the incident.
“He was the quickest guy I’ve ever been in a fight with,” Hagar said. “He hit me before I knew it. I didn’t even get a punch in.”
Martin had an entirely different version of the story, claiming that Hagar “deliberately wanted me to hit him” and “threatened to fight me.” In any case, the AP story was accompanied by a photo of Hagar sporting a massive shiner and said the reporter also suffered three chipped teeth. He would eventually threaten legal action against Martin but dropped his claim after getting a $7,500 settlement check from the Bighorns and a public apology from Martin in May 1979.
“Nobody’s happy about being in a fight,” Martin said at a news conference in Reno called to announce the settlement, per a New York Times report that ran alongside a photo that showed him shaking hands with Hagar. “It’s nothing to be proud of. I’m very sorry I hit Ray. We’re good friends now.”
In announcing that Martin would return as Yankees manager in 1980, Steinbrenner first said Martin would have to behave himself. Then, after the Hagar fracas, the Boss said that any out-of-court settlement would be an admission of guilt on Martin’s part and thus disqualify him for the Yankees job. But Steinbrenner soon took that back, and the Bighorns were the ones who paid out Hagar’s settlement, not Martin. So on June 18, 1979, 10 months before Martin was supposed to return to the Yankees dugout, Steinbrenner fired Bob Lemon and hired Martin back.
Martin’s second tenure as Yankees manager would last 55 games. After the 1979 season ended, he got in another fight with another person — this time a marshmallow salesman, of all people — in another far-flung locale (a Minneapolis hotel) and was again fired. His third stint, in 1983, was marked by another hotel brawl in California, a destroyed urinal in the Yankees’ clubhouse at Cleveland Stadium and an ugly scene involving a female researcher for the New York Times following a game at Yankee Stadium (he was again fired). In his fourth go-round, in 1985, Martin tried to fight one of his own players, suffering a broken arm (he was again fired). And finally, Martin was managing the Yankees for a fifth time in 1988 when he got into a postgame brawl at a Texas nightclub, requiring a hospital stay (he was again fired).
If that’s what Callaway is looking to emulate, he certainly seems well on his way.