The On Deck Circle

Baseball History, Commentary and Analysis

His Own Paranoia

The sun barely leaked through the chipped, vinyl shade in the cinder-block hotel room just outside of Anaheim.  Night game vs. the Angels.  Four-nothing win.  Figueroa tossed eight, then Lyle in the ninth.  A manager barely had to show up for one like that.  Nothing to fight for.  No one to kick.  Just a damn lineup card.  Shit, why waste two and a half hours in fucking A.L. Disneyland watching Grich fan three times when there’s plenty of blondes and bourbon waiting to be tasted?

His dirty little secret (all the other ones were dirty, but not secrets), was that he hated to drive.  Whitey loved to drive that Ford truck of his he’d won at that golf tournament, the one where he’d met that girl serving drinks at the Bottom’s Up Lounge near Tahoe, the one that he’d had his eye on first, but Whitey was a sneak and a pervert, and he always got what he wanted.  A three-two curve on the outside corner; always got the call.  You’d think the ump got paid off, or something.


Motel (Photo credit: Beyond Neon)

Wrong end of the bed, his balls itched, and his neck had stiffened up a bit from the awkward angle he’d crashed onto the bed, out cold now for nearly fourteen hours.  He knew the shower was a good place to start, but dumps like this always had lukewarm water, and those shitty little pieces of soap the size of a condom wrapper.  Christ, why did everything need to be so hard?

As he lay sprawled on the double-bed, the T.V. tuned to an afternoon rerun of Wheel of Fortune, a commercial came on with that damn kid singing the Oscar Mayer song, “My bologna has a first name….” and on and on.  This caused him to remember, with a start, that today was Father’s Day, and his own boy, Billy Joe, was probably going to be in the locker room, waiting for him.

God, he felt like a fraud.  He’d never even played a single game of catch with little Billy in around six years.  The kid was growing up, what twelve, thirteen years old this year?  By now, he’d had to know what a dick his dad was.

Still, at least he had a father.  He thought again as he slowly sat up, head pounding, that if he’d ever found out who his own real father was, he might just kick his ass.  Who the hell was he to abandon him!  Not to mention mom.  Grandma practically fucking raised him, too.  “Bella, apparecchia la tavola.”  And to his mother, “Gira il sugo, gira il sugo.”

These words would come to him at the oddest of times in random places.  Comiskey Park, 4th-inning, second game of a doubleheader, “Bella, apparecchia la tavola.”  Not now, grandma.  We gotta strike out Melton, first.

The cracked, plastic alarm clock he always took with him on the road dripped minutes like a sieve, now only three hours to game-time.  He ran a hand over the stubble on his gaunt face, and thought of Jill, his girlfriend who he kept promising he’d marry if he ever got another divorce.  There had been plenty of each — girlfriends and divorces —  in his life, but like a ship’s captain who knew where the hidden reefs were, he’d managed to steer clear of any major shipwrecks, at least up to this point.

Finally in the shower, his head becoming clearer, like the dissipating fog on a battlefield at first light, he let the water run down his back as he thought of how they’d all fight over his money when he was gone.  All those ex-wives, girlfriends, hangers-on and has-beens would want a piece of the action.

Well, it was all George’s doing anyway.  That rich bastard may have fired him about as many times as Billy’d been married, but he paid well, and, in his own way, he was a generous old Kraut, even if he did have his henchman following Billy around “for his own good.”

His driver showed up at the motel at 4:30 p.m. sharp, just as Billy’d finished dressing in his tan pants and blue, v-neck shirt.  Nowhere to go but to the ballpark, same as so many other nights in his life since he got his first call to The Show back in ’50.  Gotta call The Mick again soon.  Maybe hit the town tonight if he was around.  Might go over to Mulroney’s Pool Room, down a few, just to take the edge off.  Maybe all the edges, and the corners, too.

And anyway, who was going to stop him?  The best way to keep them guessing was to not stay in one place too long.  If you did, they could finally pin you down.  Isn’t that what he’d learned his whole life, since he was a kid?  “Bella, apparecchia la tavola!”

Just don’t get pinned down, ’cause then they own you.

Then there’s no more running, not even from yourself.

Just like anybody else, he had his own paranoias about things,” Billy Joe said. “I think he got bored very easy, almost manufactured trouble at times in his life. Because of his boredom. He had to be out there on the edge. In the middle of the action.”  – Billy Joe Martin, on his dad, Billy Martin.


This song’s for you, Billy:

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17 thoughts on “His Own Paranoia

  1. Martin, I get the sense very few fans (and others) were neutral about him. Pete Rose is similarly polarizing, and the two of them have similarities in their intensity and their violence, their need for action but also their canniness. I read the Observer’s story and the mention of Billy being very generous in “loaning” his money to a lot of people in baseball.

    • Hey Arne, I was never a fan of Martin’s while he was alive, and I wouldn’t count myself as one now, but as I’ve gotten older and looked back on my own life of mistakes, I have more empathy for him now than I used to.

  2. It may be indelicate to say so, but living on the edge and ending up dead in Johnson City are two very different things.

    • Certainly true, W.K., though the one can, of course, unfortunately lead to the other (as in Billy’s case.)

    • I hope it’s not too late to comment on this. This is one of my favorite pieces of yours. I read it when it came out, but I didn’t comment. Great storytelling.

      My grandfather hated Billy Martin like the plague. Naturally. Not only was Martin a mean drunk, but, even worse, he managed the Yankees! There were other reasons that I suspect that my grandfather didn’t like Martin, but I won’t get into them here.

      I’ve got one question, though. Why would he think that Mickey Mantle was in town? Did Mantle spend a lot of time in the Anaheim or Los Angeles area after his career ended?

      A nice story, although when you said that Billy hated to drive, that may have been true, but “Wild, High, and Tight- The Life and Death of Billy Martin” by Peter Golenbock seems to adequately tell the true story of how Martin was actually at the wheel and drunk, that his friend at the wheel of the pickup truck actually switched seats before the cops got there. (at least for me, but I’m partial because I despised Martin, because Grandpa did). Another reason to hate Martin; there’s very few things I have patience for than a drunk driver; maybe I have even more seething hatred for anyone who is STUPID enough to actually “text” while driving
      a two-ton mass of steel that, if not used responsibly, can be turned into something as dangerous as a gun.

      By the way, am I the only one who took the trouble to look up the Italian translations? One of them meant “Set The Table, Billy” and the other was “Stir the sauce”.

      Even though I will continue to despise Billy Martin and his like, I think that those are some words that a sage would say when you wrote (in the comments section) “Why we choose to “love” or “hate” certain players we’ve never met is probably just slightly more irrational than those people we love or hate whom we have actually spent some time with.” Good point.

      Nice writing!


      • Hi Glen,
        Thanks for the kind words, as always. You know, after I’ve written a post, and some time has gone by, I almost can’t remember what I was thinking at the time I wrote it. Sometimes, I’ll go back and look at an old post, and it seems to me as if it was written by someone else. So, to answer your questions, I probably just took dramatic license as far as Martin not liking to drive, and I do know that Mantle, Martin and Ford liked to pal around together. It would shock me if Mantle wasn’t in Vegas from time to time.
        Thanks for taking the time to look up the Italian quotes here. I probably should have included the translations as well.
        Again, thanks for reading my stuff, and for leaving the thoughtful comments.

      • Bill, I don’t agree with you about translating the Italian sentences. The story would have lost a lot if you translated the Italian to English. That would be like putting footnotes on a work of fiction. Believe it or not, I saw this about six years ago. I was reading a new paperback edition of “The Wayward Bus”, a great (but often overlooked) book by the great John Steinbeck that was originally published in 1947, and I couldn’t believe my eyes. As I read, I discovered in this new edition that a large number of sentences had footnotes next to them. In a work of fiction!!!!! I don’t remember any of them, offhand, but the one that stands out the most was near the beginning of the book. Someone in this work of fiction bought a Coke from a vending machine. THERE WAS A FRIGGIN’ FOOTNOTE NEXT TO THE WORD “COKE”!!!! I looked back in the footnote section (or maybe it was on the bottom of the page; I don’t recall), and it said, corresponding with that footnote number, something like “Coke is an abbreviation for Coca Cola, a popular carbonated beverage.” What the —-?????? IT’S A WORK OF FICTION!!!!! Wow, was I shocked. I was thinking, “Is the intentional dumbing down of America complete, or what???” This was beyond belief. And there were several other examples of this throughout the book. It ruined the flow of the book; that is, it WOULD have, if I hadn’t IGNORED the rest of the footnotes.

        It seemed like something right out of the pages Mad Magazine! It would be a Mad Magazine article entitled “If Great Works of Fiction Had Footnotes” and they would have put footnotes on sentences by Steinbeck, Faulkner, Hemingway, etc.

        Very weird.

        You’re second guessing yourself. It was fine the way you wrote it. The Italian added some pizzazz to the story. I liked that aspect of it a great deal, even the first time I read it over a year ago, at which time I HADN’T bothered to look it up. I just got curious this time, my second time reading it.

        So, no, it would have ruined the flow of the story, and it would have ruined it for the reader; it’s a work of FICTION, and good fiction, at that. I’m glad that you hadn’t translated the Italian into English. It would have been a big mistake!!!!


      • Point taken, Glen. I’m glad you enjoyed it the way it was.
        Footnoted references for Coca-Cola. Yeah, that’s a bit much.
        Take care,

  3. The thread ended. Just wanted to add that you make a great point about the irrational love or hate of ballplayer-celebrity strangers we don’t really know being similar to the love and hate of those we think we know.

    And that demon explanation you make is fascinating..the way it becomes an “integral part of us” to maybe become embraced and expressed. Ready or not, here come our demons.

  4. Don’t know much about Billy Martin except for the tabloids and headlines and what not but it sounds like he did some hard living and endured some bigger demons I’ve ever known. Maybe I’m being selfish, but I enjoyed his paranoia for my own entertainment needs, killing boredom and all that. Great story telling Bill.

    • Thank you, Steve. He was never one of my favorites, but he always struck me as a desperate soul at war with himself. I thought I might try to delve into what might have made him tick, though all our demons are jealously personal.
      Take care,

      • Hey Steve, I meant that it’s hard sometimes to know where the demons end and the person begins. They accumulate over the years, and become such an integral part of us that they’re probably all but impossible to put into meaningful words to try to describe them to someone else. Why we choose to “love” or “hate” certain players we’ve never met is probably just slightly more irrational than those people we love or hate whom we have actually spent some time with.

  5. Amazing piece, Bill. Sadly, there are only a handful of baseball blogs worth a shit. Happily, I seem to follow them. I hope to re -print this sometime in the near future. Thanks again.

  6. Bill,

    Another fine piece of writing—you keep me coming back.


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