The day Reggie Jackson ignored Billy Martin and kept bunting
Instead of hitting away as the manager instructed, Jackson did his own thing
In the New York Yankees’ July 17, 1978, game against the Kansas City Royals, the defending World Series champions found themselves tied, 5-5, in the top of the 10th with outfielder Reggie Jackson standing in the batter’s box.
Yankees manager Billy Martin told Jackson to bunt on his first pitch to give Thurman Munson an opportunity to advance from first base to second. With no outs, Al Hrabosky threw a fastball past Jackson’s head and Martin reconsidered his approach. The manager noticed the Royals’ infield sliding in, he explained after the game, and altered his signal to Jackson.
Instead of hitting away as Martin instructed, Jackson continued to try bunting the ball. After the second bunt attempt, third-base coach Dick Howser came over to Jackson to inform him of the manager’s instruction.
“I’m going to bunt,” Howser, in The New York Times, said Jackson told him.
“He wants you to swing the bat,” Howser said.
After the discussion, Jackson proceeded to foul off two times trying to bunt. On the last of those two attempts, he popped up to Kansas City catcher Darrell Porter.
The Yankees would go on to lose, 9-7, in the 11th inning.
An angry Martin flung a clock radio against a clubhouse wall after the game. He suspended Jackson indefinitely without pay for “deliberately disregarding the manager’s instructions.”
“I was shocked,” Martin said a day later to the Times. “I understood what he was doing. Here was a player defying me and his teammates. It stinks.
“I’m the manager. I don’t talk about it. If he comes back again, he does exactly as I say. Period. I’m not getting paid $3 million. I don’t disobey my boss’ orders. He tells me to do something, I do it. There isn’t going to be anyone who defies the manager or management in any way. Nobody’s bigger than this team.”
Jackson said after the game that he wasn’t bunting in defiance of Martin or because he had been converted from a full-time right fielder to a part-time designated hitter almost a month before.
“I tried to get a runner over and it looks like I’m defiant,” the 32-year-old told the Times. “I was trying to move the guy over. Does that make me a bad guy? I figured if I could get the man in scoring position with Lou Piniella coming up, we’d have a pretty good chance of winning the game.
“If I strike out or pop up, that’s not helping us. Now, can they say I’m a threat to swing the bat? I’m not an everyday player. I’m a part‐time player.”
The Yankees changed the indefinite suspension to five days in order to conform to the league’s rule that a specific period be identified. That meant Jackson would miss a four games and a day off and lose out on $9,273.75 of his $332,000 salary.
“This is probably the best thing that’s happened in a long time,” Martin said. “It’ll pull the team together. If you took a poll, I think you’d find the players unanimous — 100 percent.”
Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who was close to Jackson, threw his support behind Martin.
“I’m sure there are mitigating circumstances on both sides,” Steinbrenner told the Times, “but the basic thing has to be the discipline of the ballclub. There have to be a boss and a leader, and Billy is the boss and leader of this ballclub.
“Everybody knows that Reggie is close to me. He’s a good friend. But you’ve got to back the manager. If you don’t, you get to the point where players can listen to the manager and disregard what he says. Then you’re done. You might as well hang it up.
“I hope it makes them understand that the rules are going to be enforced without exception. No one is an individual operator out there.”