The 1976 Game-Winning Grand Slam that Wasn’t: When Billy Martin Shouted Down a Brewers’ Comeback Win
Don Money felt like he was going to hit one out. It was Saturday, April 10, 1976 and the Brewers trailed the Yankees 9-6. The Crew had jumped out to a 6-0 lead that afternoon, but Yankee rallies the seventh and ninth innings had run up nine unanswered runs on the Brewers. In the bottom of the ninth, Robin Yount led off with a single, followed by a Pedro Garcia walk. Bobby Darwin, pinch-hitting for Gorman Thomas, reached on an error, leaving the bases loaded for the veteran slugger Money. “I had that feeling,” Money said after the game. “I felt right.”
After taking a ball, Money drilled a Dave Pagan pitch deep into the left field bleachers. As the crowd of 10,000-plus rejoiced, Money circled the bases. Few people noticed Yankees manager Billy Martin fly out onto the field in a rage, screaming at first base umpire Jim McKean. Ten minutes later, the Yankees would win the game and the Brewers would be left with one of the most improbable losses in franchise history.
Two days earlier, the Brewers had spanked the Yankees 5-0 in the season opener. Billy Martin was in his first full season as manager of the Bronx Bombers and expectations were high for the team. The Brewers, meanwhile, were still looking for their first winning season, but made some major strides as a franchise the year before by trading for Henry Aaron and hosting the MLB All-Star game.
Winning the opener was a big deal for the young Brewers, and the loss needled Martin enough that he lashed out at the Brewers after the game, accusing the team of using an illegally sloped pitching mound that had caused Catfish Hunter’s poor performance. Martin, of course, had had run-ins with the Brewers in the past. In 1973, while managing the Tigers, he had dismissed the Brewers’ hot start saying, “If they can win with this club, then I’m a Chinese aviator.” Milwaukee fans were still booing him over the remark.
For all his faults, Martin was a keen observer of the game. So, on that Saturday afternoon as Money settled in at the plate, took the first pitch, and then awaited Pagan’s 1-0 meatball, Martin noticed his first baseman, Chris Chambliss, turn to McKean and ask for time. And just as Pagan was going into his windup, he saw the umpire raise his hands. Eyewitness accounts of the scene vary. But it seems that McKean began to raise his hands to stop play, but then pulled them back as Money’s shot cleared the fence. But Martin was sure that play should have been stopped. And he was damn sure not going to lose another game on a raw deal.
As the Brewers congratulated Money, Martin screamed himself red at McKean. The umpire at first denied that he had granted Chambliss time out. But after two full minutes of Martin’s tirade, the second base umpire admitted that he had seen McKean raise his hands from the very corner of his eye. McKean backtracked and confirmed the time out call. The umps conferred and called the teams back out onto the field.
Now it was first base coach Harvey Kuenn’s turn to explode. Kuenn insisted McKean had never raised his hands and needed to be physically restrained by the other three umpires. Meanwhile, the crowd roared in disapproval and showered the field, the Yankees and the umps with beer cups and other debris. When order was restored, Money popped out, George Scott lofted a run-scoring sac fly, and Darrell Porter grounded out, handing the Yankees a 9-7 win.
In the clubhouse after the game, the Brewers were apoplectic. “To come back and win a game like that and have it taken right out of your hands with the winning run crossing the plate,” manager Alex Grammas told the press. “I thought I’d seen it all before, but I’ve never seen anything like that. I cannot believe it.”
Don Money sat by his locker, taking a long pull on a can of beer. When he finished it, he quickly opened another. “What gets me mad is that he gets in the argument for two minutes and then changes his mind,” he told reporters. “If he had called timeout, he would have said it right away. But they had to have a two-minute argument. They’re gutless.”
McKean, talking after the game, insisted that he had not been bullied into changing his story. The whole thing, he claimed, was a misunderstanding. “[When he first ran out on the field] I couldn’t comprehend what Martin was saying,” the umpire said. “Finally, he said, ‘Jimmy, you called timeout.’ I said, ‘I know, I was going to tell [home plate umpire] George Marloney now.”
The Brewers went on to lose 95 games that season and, perhaps having earned Martin’s scorn, fared particularly poor against the Yankees, dropping 13 of their 15 match-ups that year. Martin and the Yankees went on to win 97 games and take the AL Pennant.