Every Friday I’ve been releasing ‘A Brief History’ podcast about the Yankees. The most recent episode is the eventful but tragic story of Billy Martin — including the Copacabana incident, the brawls, and many hirings and firings.
One person close to Billy throughout his life was Mickey Mantle.
Billy and The Mick
The Yankees of the 1950s were known for more than just winning — they were notorious partiers.
Some of the team’s best players, including Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Hank Bauer, made up the “Rat Pack.” Also in the crew was scrappy infielder, Billy Martin.
Unlike Mickey, Yogi, Whitey and Hank, Billy was not a superstar player (but he did have clutch moments). If not for manager Casey Stengel, who loved “his boy” Billy, Martin would most likely not have been a Yankee.
Casey and Billy’s father-son relationship started in the 1940s when the two were in the Pacific Coast League. Stengel vowed to bring Billy to the Bronx when he accepted the Yankees job, and was a man of his word.
Not everyone in the organization was enamored with Martin however. GM George Weiss didn’t like Billy’s extracurricular activities, which often included drinking and fighting. He tried to find players to represent the Yankees “professional” organization. Maybe he could tolerate Mickey’s after-hours carousing because he was an MVP, but a slap-hitting infielder? No shot.
Casey was a players’ manager. He looked the other way on the rat pack’s antics as long as the team kept winning — and they won almost every freakin’ year.
Throughout the ’50s the boys had their fun. But Weiss viewed Martin as the rat pack leader and thought he was a bad influence on guys like Mickey.
Billy and Mickey were roommates and close friends. The story below, known as The Cow Story, is a hilarious summation of their relationship.
The Cow Story
This story took place while Billy was managing the Texas Rangers. It likely happened in late 1974 or early ’75, because Mickey talks about Martin doing a great job turning the Rangers around (he took them from a newly relocated mess of a franchise to an above-.500 team).
Here’s Mickey in a one-on-one interview where he tells the great Martin/Mantle Cow Story.
This is Billy on Letterman (along with George Steinbrenner) in the 1980s telling the story.
The story sums up Billy perfectly. As a teammate, a manager, and a friend, you want Billy on your side. But damn is he a wild card.
Unfortunately the rat pack was broken up in 1957 after the infamous Copacabana nightclub brawl. Even though the two were never teammates again, they remained close throughout their lives.
Podcast – A Brief History: You’re Fired, The Billy Martin Story