Yesterday, Mr. Dayn Perry shared the story of the irascible Billy Martin and his irascible love for Realistic Hone-Video Baseball. You may have found yourself wondering as to the identity of the second gentleman that would drive such a nice guy to such an uncharacteristic furor. That man was none other than the famous author and editor of the Paris Review, George Plimpton.
The early eighties saw a pitched battle between the Atari and the Intellivision, holding up to society a mirror for the deeper international tensions that marked the era. As in the Cold War, Plimpton and Martin waged a war of words, seeking to win the hearts and minds of the people. Billy Martin played the part of the folksy populist, seeking to win America’s heart. George Plimpton, recalling a fully-coifed Adlai Stevenson, employed logic to appeal to the minds of the citizenry.
At first glance, the relationship between these two figureheads appears dismissive at best. Martin addresses Plimpton as “that other guy who just talks baseball”, while Plimpton, his head lolling with purified self-satisfaction, doesn’t acknowledge Billy Martin at all. But as is often the case, these two men, separated by time, space and ideology, had crossed paths once before, in more innocent times.
The year was 1960. George Plimpton, on assignment for Sports Illustrated, pitched to the National League All-Stars in an exhibition. The predictable result, as related by Whitey Ford, was sweat “leaking out of him like it was sawdust.” As his teammates passed by him on their way to the dugout, one man slowed down to sympathize: Billy Martin. Sitting in the dugout among the giants of the game were two men: one an undersized shortstop playing in the shadow of Mantle and Berra, the other a professional amateur discovering his own physical decline. Martin’s teammates approached, and he broke into his usual persona, the amiable hazing.
Still, for one sun-bleached moment in New York, fifty years ago, Atari and Intellivision met as friends, rather than enemies.
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