My latest Poynter column is on Bill Pennington’s new book, “Billy Martin: Flawed Genius.”
Here is an excerpt:
Pennington’s detailed biography is filled with countless stories of the combustible Martin settling his many differences during his eventful 61-year life. He had a wild ride with stunning ups and downs as one of baseball’s most compelling characters.
“For the last 30 years, I felt like I had some insights about him that were valuable,” Pennington said. “Whenever his name came up, people always were asking me questions, wanting to know more about him. I knew there was a fascination about him. He was so accomplished and yet so self-destructive at the same time.”
Pennington thinks the biography provides a vivid snapshot of baseball in the ‘80s, and that includes how the game was covered. Back then, the beat writers had far more access, which led to deeper relationships with the players, manager and coaches. They even flew on the team charters, a practice that has been long since eliminated.
“From a reporter standpoint, you really got to know the team so well,” Pennington said. “You knew all the cliques. There would be conversations with players on the team buses that were completely informal, but many times they would lead to a story down the line. I understand the ethical questions of being on the charters [newspapers still paid their own way], but I think we’ve lost something.”
Pennington revisited those now long-time relationships with Martin’s former players in researching the book. He noted a common refrain even among people who didn’t like Martin, of which there were many.
“When I told them what I was doing, they’d all laugh and say, ‘There never was a dull moment with Billy,’” Pennington said.