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by Harold Friend
"I love Billy, but I'm still a Yankee. I was rooting for the Yankees to win that playoff last week against Billy." Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin's friendship is legendary. They were Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Batman and Robin, and Thelma and Louise all rolled into one, but when it came to the Yankees, Mickey Mantle was a Yankee. So was Billy Martin, but Billy Martin was sent away. They could take Billy Martin away from the Yankees, but they couldn't take the Yankees away from Billy Martin.
It Would Be Easier to Be Loyal to the Dollar
In 1981, Billy managed the Oakland A's against the Yankees in the playoffs. There were two playoff rounds in 1981 due to a lengthy strike that was cause by the owners' demand that a team losing a free agent had to be compensated by the team that signed him, a concession that, if agreed to, would lessen the bargaining power of free agents and greatly affect how a player felt about his team. It would make it easier than ever to be loyal to the dollar.
Mickey Mantle played his entire career for the Yankees. He had tremendous disagreements over money with general manager George Weiss, but Mantle was always a Yankee. When Billy Martin's Oakland A's played the Yankees, Mickey Mantle pulled for the Yankees because Mickey Mantle was and always would be a Yankee, and that was more important than almost anything.
Many Stars Played for One Team
Players, especially stars, used to be identified with one team. Lou Gehrig and Joe DiMaggio were Yankees, Ted Williams and Yaz were Red Sox, Stan Musial was a Cardinal, Bob Feller and Bob Lemon were Indians, Jackie Robinson was a Brooklyn Dodger, Al Kaline was a Tiger, Brooks Robinson was an Oriole, Tony Gwynn was a Padre, and Mickey Mantle Whitey Ford, and Bernie Williams were Yankees.
Some Stars Were Traded
Late in their careers, some teams traded a great player who could have ended his career with that team. It was an act that demonstrated the player cared more about "his" team than the team cared about the player. Ralph Kiner, Warren Spahn, Yogi Berra, Robin Roberts, Duke Snider, Gil Hodges, Richie Ashburn, Willie Mays, and Henry Aaron are just some greats who played for more than one team, but each will always be linked to his original team. No one can deny that the player and his family came first, but the player's allegiance to his team was akin to that of a die hard fan to his team.
Don't Hurt Anyone
Free agency has changed that. It has allowed players to display the same amount of loyalty as owners because it's all about money. Watch a game in the 1950s and see the runner slide hard into second base in an attempt to break up the double play. Watch a game today and see the shortstop pat the opposition player who has just doubled in a run on the rear end as they share a smile. When the first baseman moves to hold the runner who has just reached the base, they talk and laugh. Certainly there is competition, but the players belong to the same union. Today's opponent is tomorrow's teammate. Too much money is involved to hurt someone.
Mickey Mantle Couldn't Root for Billy
Mickey Mantle and Billy Martin were such great friends that Mickey named one of his sons after Billy. They were almost inseparable when they were teammates and they remained great friends until Billy's untimely accident. There was no question that Billy would do almost anything for Mickey, and Mickey would do almost anything for Billy -- except root for him when he managed against the Yankees.
Anderson, Dave. "Sports of the Times: Mantle at 50, Still a Yankee." New York Times. 21 October 1981, p.B7.