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Sunday, April 12, 2015

What would Gil Hodges and Billy Martin do about Didi Gregorius?

Yesterday afternoon at Yankee Stadium against the Red Sox new shortstop Didi Gregorius made at least his third major blunder in the Yankees first five games (1-4).  I'd have to really think to recall the most recent such blunders by his predecessor Derek Jeter.

The first two Gregorius mistakes were being thrown out on the bases.  They would have elicited reprimands from a Little League coach.  Gregorius was talked to in the dugout but seemed oblivious as he was in subsequent interviews.

Yesterday Gregorius held a relay throw from the right fielder despite the fact that a Red Sox base runner could have been thrown out at home.  This was shown on replays and discussed by the Yankee announcers Micheal Kay, Ken Singleton and David Cone.  Cone mentioned that when he played for the Yankees one season the team got off to a slow and sloppy start and that manager Joe Torre, now a Hall of Famer, had a closed door meeting during which Torre uncharacteristically expressed his displeasure in no uncertain terms, which Cone declined to describe.  One of his players then was incumbent Yankee manager Joe Girardi.

Billy Martin game 7 saving catch
1952 World Series
front cover Baseball Digest Oct. 1958

via Wikimedia Commons
Girardi, Gil Hodges and Billy Martin all played for New York World Series champions and each later managed a New York team to a single championship.  Hodges and Martin must have learned something in the 1952, 1953, 1955 and 1956 World Series in which the Brooklyn Dodgers played the Yankees.  All but 1953 went seven games.

Years later both did the same thing: pulled an outfielder and replaced him with the other team still batting.  As manager of the Mets Hodges slowly walked from the home dugout toward the pitcher's mound and continued out to left field where he asked Cleon Jones if he was injured.  When Jones indicated that he was not Hodges returned to the dugout with Jones, who had not hustled enough for Hodges.

Martin had the same reaction while managing the Yankees years after the Hodges move.  During a nationally televised Saturday afternoon game in Boston a Red Sox batter dropped a pop fly in front of right fielder Reggie Jackson.  Reggie returned back to regular depth and turned to face the next batter only to see Paul Blair coming out to right.  Reggie asked why but Blair simply referred Reggie to manager Martin.  A dugout confrontation ensued complete with Billy trying to get at Reggie while Billy was held back by coach Yogi Berra and Reggie influenced but hardly restrained by coach Elston Howard.  For all his street tough style Billy Martin wanted no part of the much larger and younger Reggie Jackson, at least not while Jackson was facing Martin.  Reggie was no marshmallow, salesman or otherwise.

Both Hodges and Martin intentionally humiliated a starting player.  Each was sending a message to that player, to all the other players and to the media that certain minimal expectations must be met or there will be consequences.

That's what I wanted Joe Girardi to do yesterday.   I wanted Girardi to replace Didi Gregorius with Stephen Drew while the Red Sox were still batting.  These are kinder and gentler times but Girardi could and should have relied on the ample precedent of two previous New York managers who evolved from the cauldron of baseball in the early 1950s.

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