Billy Martin Apologizes to Reporter He Punched: This Day in Sports History

Brian Giuffra
Billy Martin.
Billy Martin. / Focus On Sport/Getty Images
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The relationship between sports reporters and coaches isn't quite as intimate as it used to be. For instance, did you know former Yankees player and manager Billy Martin once beat up a journalist in the luxury box of a minor-league basketball game?

Ah, the good ol' days.

The year was 1978. The month, November. Martin, who had been relieved of his managing duties by George Steinbrenner halfway through the previous season, was being interviewed by Ray Hagar at halftime of a Reno Bighorns game against the Las Vegas Dealers of the Western Basketball Association. Initially, Martin said the 25-year-old sportswriter challenged him to a fight. Hagar denied it, saying the fight started because Martin wanted to see his notes and Hagar denied him. Regardless of who you believe(d), Martin was the aggressor, punching Hagar right in the eye and then landing a few more blows before the two were separated.

“He hit me before I knew it," Hagar was quoted as saying at the time. "I didn't even get a punch in.”

Six months later, on this day in 1979, Martin apologized to Hagar. Steinbrenner said Martin could only manage the Yankees again if he didn't have any legal issues brewing, hence the apology. An undisclosed settlement likely also helped ease the tension and end the legal battle, though there's no formal record of that. The incident was simply forgotten.

Fast forward fifty years and Mets manager Mickey Callaway brought up the incident after berating Newsday reporter Tom Healey during the 2019 season. Healey got an apology too, but Callaway didn't throw any punches. Things really have changed through the decades.

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