With the 20th anniversary of Billy Martin’s death on Christmas evening 1989 nearly upon us, it's a good time to look back on Martin's impact on the Yankees and his managing style. I recently put together a compilation of some of his former players talking about Martin, including a talk last year with Mike Pagliarulo about his time playing third base for Martin on the 1980s Yankees. As a way to look back on that day and Martin’s career, here's Pags' memories of Martin:Q: How did you respond to Billy Martin, first as your coach on the Yankees, and then upon learning of his death?
A: I loved Billy Martin. That was a very sad day for me. I burst out crying when I heard the news.
He was the kind of guy who wasn’t afraid to tell you what he thought of you. If I got one hit in a game and hit a couple other balls well, but they were caught, what he’d say to me was, "You dumb-ass dago, you can’t get more than one hit." Billy was very honest.
I remember one day, a game against the Angels. It was 1985, my first full season. In the eighth inning I fielded a bunt, threw the ball to second, and the throw pulled the man off base. When I got back to the dugout, Billy was waiting on the top step, screaming at me, "What the hell were you thinking out there? That wasn’t the right play." I didn’t back down; I told him, "It was the right play, I just didn’t make the throw."
A little while later Clete Boyer, our third base coach, says Billy wants to see me in his office. I’m thinking I’m going to get sent down, but Billy said, "Hey look, maybe you were right about that play." He didn’t say "You’re right," but he said maybe I was right. He was willing to admit he was wrong. Of course he added, "You dago son of a bitch, I’m only saying this because you’re Italian."
Billy could see the field so completely; he knew what everybody was doing.