Two Thousand Ninteen represented many weird and difficult things in my personal life. Some are happy some not so happy. Sometimes you go through such difficult things in life and you feel like a hunter trying to get certain moments and feelings back.
The year started in a very difficult way for me because I lost, as I said in an earlier article, one of my three baseball fathers, Tom “T-Bone” Giordano, who had one of baseball’s greatest minds and would become one of the game’s greatest scouts, passed away. Naturally I still haven’t gotten over that one because he was in my life everyday. For almost forty years, he would remind me how important I was in this world. I miss those morning calls and the monthly breakfast dates at Rosie’s Greek diner with T-Bone, Rob Drum and Billy C.
Last week, we lost the wonderful actor and my buddy, Danny Aiello. I would’ve been going to his annual Christmas show with my pal Aris this week and Danny would’ve given us a shout out and then after the show he would’ve asked us if we heard him scream out for us. Just like T-Bone, Danny always made you feel important. People like this will live on forever in our hearts.
This week is an extremely difficult time for me and so many others because it marks the 30th anniversary of the death of the great Yankee manager Billy Martin. To me, Billy was baseballs version of Frank Sinatra. He was truly bigger than life. The fact that I would get to be in the presence of Mr. Sinatra both at Yankee Stadium during the 1976 playoffs and on several occasions at Patsy’s, the famed Manhattan Italian restaurant on 56th street and Broadway, I would get to know him a little bit. However, it was enough to be able to make such a strong comparison in these two incredible men. Billy, like all of us, had his issues. However, unlike most of us, he had one of the great hearts of all time. Billy was a very strong willed man, who was not afraid of anyone. Like George Steinbrenner, Billy was an extremely proud father to his son Billy, Jr.
I actually fought in the 1976 Boxing Golden Gloves at his urging. He had a speed bag in our gym at Yankee Stadium and gave me lessons. He was actually very good. Very fast hands. In 1979, Billy and Mr. Steinbrenner urged me to go back to college to take some courses on what they called records and analysis or something like that, which 40 years later in baseball is known as analytics. The Boss and Billy the Kid were actually talking about this way back then.
People think that all the Boss and Billy did was argue. That couldn’t have been further from the truth. I used to marvel at the conversations that these two great men used to have. What I really loved was the fact that Billy was learning about business from the Boss and the Boss was learning baseball from Billy. The thing that I really loved was the fact that they would allow me to sit with them when all of this was going on. I got to understand a very complicated relationship and learned how in life, if you truly love someone that you could always find forgiveness in your heart for someone’s short comings. I learned that we are not perfect as in the case of these two great men. They were strong and powerful in their world but they were also kind and gentle beings to the people that were not connected to the organization.
On many occasions, I saw Billy give what ever cash he had in his pocket to the guy in the street begging the person to make sure that he got a meal. In the winter of 1978, Billy opened up a western store on 73rd St and Madison Ave. Billy asked me to come work for him at the shop doing inventory. So the winter of ’78, I would go to Yankee Stadium in the morning if the Boss was in town, then I would go to Reggie Jackson’s place on 79th Street to answer fan mail and what ever errands Reggie needed done and then I would go to Billy’s shop in the evening. Some people were fascinated at the fact that I would have this kind of relationship with three such complex individuals. However they were not complex at all if you got to know the wonderful hearts that they had. I will never forget someone once asking me how I was treated by these men and I was proud to answer, “Like I AM SOMEBODY.”
In November of 1989, I would become the General Manager of the St. Lucie Legends. The Legends were part of a senior baseball league that was formed for players, 35 years of age and older that had played in the Major Leagues with aspirations of getting back. The Miami team had Earl Weaver, the West Palm Beach team, which was owned by John Henry, the present day owner of the Boston Red Sox, had Dick Williams, so naturally my first call was to Billy Martin. Billy thanked me profusely and let me in on a secret. He said that the reason that he couldn’t do it was because he was pretty sure that the Boss was going to bring him back as a manager. As a matter of fact, he was the one who urged me to hire Graig Nettles as my Legends manager. Well, unfortunately that was the last time I got to talk to Billy Martin. Billy would go to Tampa and speak with Mr. Steinbrenner and then Billy would go to a Christmas event for underprivileged kids with the Boss and read ‘Twas the night before Christmas.’
On the evening of December 25th, my phone would ring in my St. Lucie apartment. It was my friend, senior news writer for ABC news Mort Fleishner. He told me that my friend Billy Martin had been killed in a car accident. My heart instantly broke. My tears ran down my face and I felt as if I had lost my power to breathe. I literally fell to the floor. The last time this happened was when Thurman Munson was killed in an airplane accident ten years earlier. However at that time I had Billy to help me stand up. I only wish I could’ve helped him more.