Baseball brawls aren’t “handbags at ten paces,” like soccer fights typically are. But they usually offer more sizzle than steak. And if a player gets hurt, it’s most likely to be a pulled muscle during the minor scuffling and milling about that occurs after any real fighting has stopped.
With Billy Martin, however, it was different.
50 years ago today, Martin broke the jaw and/or cheekbone (accounts differ) of Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer. Martin, who was playing for Cincinnati, received a five-game suspension; Brewer missed the remainder of the season, spending it in the hospital.
Martin’s attack was prompted by a brush back pitch from Brewer. Martin’s 1959 season had ended just about a year earlier (August 5, 1959) when a Tex Clevenger pitch fractured his cheekbone and jaw. With that, perhaps, in mind, Martin responded to Brewer’s inside pitch by flinging his bat towards the mound as he swung and missed at Brewer’s next offering. He then walked towards Brewer, ostensibly to retrieve the bat. According to one account, Martin said, “don’t worry kid, I’m just coming to get my bat.” According to another, Brewer walked towards the bat to pick it up for Martin.
But instead of going for the bat, Martin went for Brewer who, under the circumstances, didn’t have much of a chance. Martin’s story, which I don’t think anyone believes, is that the bat slipped out of his hands and that he attacked Brewer only because of comments the pitcher made when Martin went for his bat.
The Cubs sued Martin for $1 million over the loss of Brewer’s services. Martin quipped “how do they want it, cash or check?” The Cubs dropped the suit, but Brewer persisted. After nine years, the case settled for $10,000.
Don Zimmer was a Cubs infielder in 1960. The day after the incident, Martin asked Zimmer whether he thought Brewer had thrown at him. Zimmer answered affirmatively. A few years later, Martin asked Zimmer to so testify, which he did in front of several former teammates who testified for Brewer. Martin told Zimmer that his testimony probably saved him plenty of money. He later hired Zimmer as a Yankee coach.
Martin and Brewer were at opposite ends of their careers in 1960. Martin would play only one more season, and eventually would achieve fame as a manager. But though his playing days were nearly over, he was in mid-career as a fighter. As manager of Texas, for example, he slapped Burt Hawkins, the team’s traveling secretary, who was around 60 years old at the time. And as manager of the Yankees, Martin went several rounds of “mixed martial arts” with Ed Whitson, one of his pitchers.
Brewer, who was only 22 at the time of the altercation, never did much with the Cubs, but became a very successful relief pitcher for the Dodgers. In 1970-71, he was probably as good as any left-handed reliever in baseball, positng sub-2.00 ERAs both years. His career record was 69-65 with a 3.09 ERA and 132 saves.
Brewer spent his final two seasons, 1975-76, with the California Angels in the American League. During that time he appeared multiple times against Martin’s clubs — first Texas and then the Yankees — apparently without any serious incident.
Martin and Brewer both died as the result of automobile accidents — Brewer in 1987 at age 50 and Martin two years later at age 61.
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