Monday, May 20, 2019

(Editor’s note: This “End of the Bench” column was published in 1978 about the late, great New York Yankee player and manager, Billy Martin, about his 1968 visit to our town)

Being s sportswriter for a small-town daily newspaper in Cherokee, Iowa, has its ups and downs just like every other position in any other profession.

Tuesday night I attempted to telephone Bill Martin. My efforts were in vain. After failing in numerous calls to valued contacts that might possibly assist me in completing the final hookup with Martin, i conceded defeat.

Martin, who I met in 1968 in Cleghorn, is obviously not a personal friend, but I’ve always considered myself a friend of the fiery New York Yankee.

You know how it goes, you’re loyal to a team or a player for years and without realizing it, you talk about them like you know them personally.

I’ve always been a Yankee fan - Mantle, Maris, Tresh, Boyer, Pepitone, Berra, Ford, Howard, Richardson - those are the guys I remember best. But somehow in 1968, when I was just 13 years olds, I listened to a Yankee who sold the Bronx Bombers to me more than any of the homers charted by Mantle or Maris.

It was Billy Martin at the Cleghorn, Iowa gymnasium.

It was in the winter of 1968. Martin was doing some promotions for Storz Beer through a beer distributor in Sioux City, Earl Neu.

Neu, a personal friend of local bar owners Beryl Simmons and my dad, Emmett, informed them that Billy would be making a special appearance in Cleghorn, and that they should be sure to attend.

Being a Yankee fan and knowing that Martin was a former Yankee was all I needed to hear. I was going.

Beryl’s sons, Bill and Tracy, along with Dick Hirschman and his son Steve, the late John Dean and yours truly, packed into a station wagon and traveled west to Cleghorn and listened to the Yankee’s No. 1.

It was great. He was soon to become the new manager of the Minnesota Twins, but the question-and-answer period was swamped with talk of the Yankees. Periodically, someone would ask something about the Twins, but it was basically a Yankee pep talk headed by Martin.

He smiled and joked about past rumbles with former teammates and opponents and shared stories of his years as a Yank.

In 1950, Martin was summoned to the Yankees by then Hall of Fame Yankee manager Casey Stengel, to whom Martin became “that little punk - how I love him” and from whom he learned the psychology of leadership.

Martin remained with the Yankees until 1957, playing with the Yanks in the 1952 World Series where he made the key play in the seventh game with a shoestring catch of a bases-loaded pop fly by Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers. The following year he had record setting figures of 12 hits and .500 batting average in the World Series, and he was chosen the Series MVP.

Those were the good years for Martin and he enjoyed shooting the breeze about the good old days as a Yankee player.

There was no admission into the Cleghorn gymnasium on this night and it was filled with area baseball fans who appeared to enjoy the closeness to Martin.

Following his question and answer session, Neu, at the request of Simmons, got Martin to pose with four of his young fans, yours truly included. Billy joked with us and questioned us about our young baseball careers.

Then, when I was home in bed sleeping, Martin did some more promoting and visited some of Cherokee’s friendly pubs. Beryl remembers that better than I.

“Billy was just a down-to-earth fellow and a guy who liked to just shot the breeze.” remembers Simmons. “He talked to people in the pool hall for about an hour and had a good taste for scotch whiskey. I remember one thing very well, when he went to leave, he asked to take a drink to go. That’s against the law, but i told hime to go ahead, but if got got I didn’t know his name,” said Simmons with a chuckle.

My attempts to telephone Martin were fruitless this time, but someday I’ll take to him, and when I do, I’ll ask him if he remembers being in Cleghorn, Iowa in 1968 and remind him he owes Beryl Simmons a drink. Think he’ll remember?

I do.