Reggie Jackson: Was Billy Martin An Anti-Semite?

Do you remember that ESPN mini-series “The Bronx Is Burning”? It was about the 1977 New York Yankees and had the one guy from “Rescue Me” as Reggie Jackson, and John Turturro as Billy Martin. It was also pretty horrible, though that’s doing nothing to keep MSG from deciding to show the series this Sunday night.

As part of the series, MSG recorded a bunch of interviews with players from that Yankees team to supplement the show, and as you’d expect, some of the best material came from Mr. October himself. In one choice outtake from a part of Jackson’s interview with teammate Fran Healy, Reggie tells us all that Billy Martin may have been an anti-Semite.


Jackson thought he and Martin would get along better in ‘78, but he was turned off in spring training when he heard “a group of players and Billy telling an anti-Semitic joke about [Ken] Holtzman, who is Jewish.

“I was getting ready to hit and I said, ‘I wonder if they know I am standing here and they are talking about that and I am a minority? Why would they do that?’ ”

Healy then asked Jackson if he thought that Martin’s attitude toward Ken Holtzman played a role in Martin never using him.

“That’s a terrific question,” he tells his friend and former teammate, Fran Healy. “That’s a question I thought about a lot.”

Holtzman would only appear in five games with the Yankees during the first two months of the 1978 season before being traded to the Chicago Cubs on June 10th for the infamous “player to be named later.” A player whose name was eventually Ron Davis.

Whether or not Martin can really be considered an anti-Semite because of one off-color joke, I’m not sure - especially since Reggie doesn’t say what the joke was. It could be possible that Martin was just making a joke and that he didn’t pitch Holtzman because he just wasn’t that good.  He did go 2-3 with a 5.78 ERA in 1977, and was only 11-10 in his season and a half in the Bronx. After being traded to the Cubs, Holtzman made it through the 1979 season and went 3-9 during his season and a half with the Cubs.

It’s not like Martin was benching Sandy Koufax here.