Billy Martin

September 13, 2007

Late in his disappointing life, Confucius was sitting with his two most loyal disciples. His two closest friends. Together the three of them had been down every road. What was there left to say? What was there left to teach?

“Suppose you tell me your innermost wishes?” the old master finally said.

His two companions gave their answers, the brash and extroverted Zilu wishing he could share bountiful material wealth with his friends, the more inward Yan Hui wishing for profound, unshakable humility. Confucius may have sensed that both were trying to impress their long-time teacher with their answers. When they returned the question to him he kept it simple, embodying rather than merely reaching for both the spirit of generosity and the spirit of humility.

“I wish the old may enjoy peace, friends may enjoy trust, and the young may enjoy affection,” he said.

Tomorrow the last regular season series of the year between the Red Sox and Yankees begins. Whenever I had a chance to wish for something as a child (birthday candles, wishbone, coins in a fountain, etc.) I wished deeply and sincerely for the Red Sox to Win. To Beat the Yankees. To Win Everything. Years came and went and the wish did not come true. Maybe it’s because nobody—not me, certainly not beady-eyed Red Sox manager Don Zimmer, not even Confucius—ever wished for something as deeply and ferociously as the wish Billy Martin willed true thirty years ago this October: to manage the New York Yankees to a World Series championship.

In other words, the above card, from 1978, shows a man who has achieved his innermost wish. As Paul Westerberg might put it: Look him in the eyes and tell him that he’s satisfied.

Then tell me, what is your innermost wish?


  1. 1.  i fervently wish that tomorrow, the woman i love more than any woman i have ever known in my life, the woman who saved me the night I had a heart attack 1 year ago, a woman who truly deserves to be happy and live a long, long life, will be told that she does NOT have cervical cancer.

  2. 2.  1 I don’t know what my innermost wish was a minute ago. But now I can’t think of anything I’d want that would matter more than that. Add my paltry wishes to yours, and best luck to you both.

  3. 3.  to be at peace with myself and the world.

  4. 4.  Be a good dad and husband.

  5. 5.  I’ll be wishing along with you, Will.

    As for Confucius’ question: it’s not a real chatty one, is it? I can’t come up with a definitive answer myself (and I’ve been thinking about it since I studied up a little on ol’ Master Kong a few years ago). I first think of my loved ones when I think of the question. I also sometimes think of the persistent migratory ache of life (dissatisfaction one day, unhappiness the next, knee pain the next, anger the next, anxiousness the next, and so on, which is not to say that there isn’t pleasure every day, even sometimes joy, but, you know, there’s always something) and verge on wishing for it to cease (not in death but in a rush of profound, invincible spiritual enlightenment), but I sincerely doubt that it can cease short of death. “Life is suffering,” sayeth a certain contemporary of Confucius (what a time that was: Moses was also walking the earth, I think [plus his Consigliari, Joshua]), and there isn’t an escape, and actually you wouldn’t want it anyway (I think of the angel in Wings of Desire who gave up eternal life to feel what it was like to have cold hands on a winter’s day and to warm them with a styrafoam cup of coffee, and also of course to feel what it was like to love). So what then? If life is suffering, then I’m going to suffer, and so are my loved ones. What to wish for? I don’t know, man. For love to grow, maybe. Love in my heart and in everyone’s heart or some shit, I don’t know, lord, that sounds so vague, so mushy. What I’m saying is I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony. I’d like to buy the world a Coke and keep it company.

    Oh well, I’m still working on it, I guess. I really think your innermost wish can point you the way to go, so it’s fitting that this historically directionless person descends into mumbling when the question of innermost wishes is at hand.

    However, I do sincerely wish that the Red Sox kick the crap out of the Yankees tonight.

  6. 6.  I wish walbers gets his wish.

  7. 7.  Oooh! That Replacements reference gave me chills.

  8. 8.  7 : It’s a chill-provoking song. The clip in the link is pretty good, solo Westerberg I guess, but I was hoping to find an older clip with Bob Stinson still around.

    And that photo of Billy Martin is chill-provoking to me too. I’ve started to write about it several times over the last few months and I can never really get much down. I want to write about the look of suffering in his face, his eyes, his poor haircut, the small crucifix just above the interlocking NYY in his cap, the way he threw himself into baseball so much he threw himself away, and it always worked, he won, but then it always stopped working, at least in terms of a corporate relationship with his bosses, and he was cast back out into life again, fired and fired and fired again. Maybe winning a title for his beloved Yankees would stop the suffering. Apparently not. “Liberty is a lie.”

  9. 9.  or maybe it shows a man thinking, as paul also has said, “somewhere there’s a drink with my name on it”

    best wishes to 1

  10. 10.  Will, I wish you both the very best.

  11. 11.  best wishes, will.

  12. 12.  to all of you who were wishing with me, thanks so much for your kind thoughts. we got our wish. Not cancer, though still the highest level of pre-cancerous lesion. it would have definitely turned to cancer if we hadn’t gone to get it checked. so, the diseased tissue can be removed surgically and she’s looking at 100% recovery! best rgds, will (and Sarah)

    and, please make sure the women you love get regular Pap tests. it saves lives…

  13. 13.  That’s really great, Will. Good luck to you both with the surgery and recovery.

  14. 14.  Will, that’s great news. I’ve shared some personal stuff on the DT thread before, got nothing but the best wishes from a community that truly cared… and people still ask me why I spend my time checking out baseball sites.

    My most fervent wish, outside of love and happiness for my family, is to become a great teacher. Getting there is like chasing Willie Mays in a rundown… you’ll end up humiliating yourself more than once but the pursuit is worth it because if it works, what better satisfaction is there? So I’m looking to tag out Willie.

  15. 15.  Now that I’ve stopped holding my breath and crossing my fingers and toes for walbers and his wife, I can be a jerk and point out that the photos for the 1978 Topps cards were likely taken early during the 1977 season, so the Martin in the photo above has most likely not achieved that innermost wish just yet.

  16. 16.  15 : Good point, Bartleby (Note: “Bartleby” is according to the practice I just this minute invented a respectful and familiar means of address applied to all my fellow workers in the field of editing, proofreading, fact-checking, indexing, and the like; the term “Bartleby” refers of course to the patron saint of our quiet cubicle-bound toil [http://tinyurl.com/2m93ec] and is to be used in the same manner as other more well-known terms of respectful/familiar address, such as “homeboy”).

    Maybe I can still make the conceit work (for the 1978 Billy Martin card profile, version 2.0?) by leaning on the following claims: Billy Martin is inarguably the manager of the New York Yankees in the picture, surely a dream come true for him; he has by the time of the picture won a pennant for his beloved team; he is still at the helm of that team, which is at the time of the picture likely favored to win another pennant, as they fortified their pennant-winning roster with the best slugger alive (Reggie), so he is in the midst of a championship season, which might be even greater for a fighter like Billy Martin than having already had a championship season. Also, regardless of when the picture was taken it reached my hands in 1978, with the Yankees as champions, so maybe I can claim “poetic license” and imagine that I am looking at a photo of Billy Martin from after his WS win (the boy holding the card might reason that all the back of the card data on all his cards has been updated through the end of the previous year, so why should the front of the cards be different?).

    Whew, what a windbag.

  17. 17.  Maybe it was Billy’s dream that he was inspiring a future John Turturro character.

  18. 18.  My innermost wish is that my wife and I did the best job we could raising our daughter, who is a college freshman this year and that her life turns out well. I hope we taught her how to make good decisions.

  19. 19.  This is veering perilously close to that cringe-inducing “What are you thankful for?” chatter that proliferates, uncomfortably, around the holiday supper table. Or perhaps (oof) “Where do you see yourself in five years?” (see Tom Burgmeier)

    My innermost wish is that you heretofore refrain from this type of inveterate psychological inquisitioning, and cease/desist from any similar filibusters on your path to crafting riveting anacdotes concerning your boyhood thoughts on Rudy Meoli, Aurelio Rodriguez and Richie Zisk.

    I also wish that the CW network would air its reruns of ‘South Park’ at a more resonable and godly hour than 300 AM (for those of us who don’t have cable).

    And I guess I wish that ‘Charles in Charge’ would then air before it, instead of ‘Frasier.’

  20. 20.  I wish that Billy Martin gets reincarnated as Marshmallow salesman, and that he gets into a fight with the Florida’s mascot, Billy Marlin, and loses.

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