(Howard’s note: Section 220 commenter Jeff in So Cal grew up in the Twin Cities and, after reading Patrick Reusse’s recent column about Billy Martin and the 1969 Twins, wrote this to share some unique memories about his family’s relationship with Martin. Nice to have baseball back today. I’ll be on MPR at noon talking baseball with Gary Eichten.)
There was a time when MLB coaching staffs had to work a second job in the offseason as their salaries were not that great. Billy Martin worked a second job in the Twin Cities and surrounding areas too during the mid to late ’60s. Grain Belt Beer was one of the biggest sponsors of the Twins back then. Billy Martin worked for Grain Belt during the offseason doing promotions, giving speeches, and generally a good will ambassador of Grain Belt and the Twins. His day to day job was actually visiting the beer distributors and go with them on their routes to meet customers to promote the beer.
My Father owned a Grain Belt Beer distributorship back then and that is how my family and I got to know him. In the offseason he would occasionally come into town and he would ride in the truck with my Dad and go to tavern owners talking baseball. He would even help my Dad unload his truck from time to time to help him out. My Dad would sometimes let me miss school when he was in town just so I could ride along with them.
I heard Billy tell his stories of those great Yankee teams and of course his stories of Whitey Ford and the great Mickey Mantle. Wherever he went there was always a crowd that was mesmerized by what he had to say. He always made it very clear that he was very proud of being a Yankee but he was also very proud to wear the uniform of the Minnesota Twins. He often compared our teams to those great Yankee teams.
It always saddened my Dad to always hear how much of a drunk Billy Martin was. I can tell you that I never saw him drunk. My Dad said that when he was with him on the route he always drank in moderation and was always very accommodating to everyone. My Mom and Dad would have him over for dinner after the days work was done and he was the very best guest a kid could ask for.The next morning he was at the warehouse bright and early ready for the next day. My Mom and Dad always liked him and appreciated his help with their business. I can tell you I was in 7th heaven talking to him and that just fueled my love for Twins baseball that still burns today and for the rest of my life.
I am not saying that he did not have a problem with alcohol but in those days all I can say is that my family and I never saw it. I think he knew he had a responsibility and he did not want to let anyone down.
That Twins team of 1969 in my opinion was the best Twins team ever with their blend of power and speed. The aggressiveness on the base paths came from one person .. Billy Martin! Look up the stats of that Twins lineup and you will be amazed. We could really use some of those guys in our lineup today. Unfortunately we ran into a Baltimore team that was one of their all time great teams too.
That 1969 team was Billy Ball before anyone had ever heard of Billy Ball!! In closing I just want to say that Billy Martin was very well respected by me and my entire family. He will always be held in high regard and I am the better for having known him.