Billy Martin spent the summer of '70 at Leaf Lakes and Ottertail
Fifty years ago, in the summer of 1970, former New York Yankee and Minnesota Twins manager Billy Martin stayed with his wife and son at Leaders Resort at Leaf Lakes.
“I loved baseball. Billy loved baseball. And for that reason we came to know each other very well,” said retired Henning teacher and former athletic director Ed Snyder.
Martin had managed the Twins in 1969, with his team winning the American League Western Division title. However, Martin had disagreements with Twins owner Calvin Griffith after Minnesota lost the American League championship series to the Baltimore Orioles.
Martin was not hired back for the following season.
With Martin out of baseball for the 1970 season, the Leaders Resort owner invited Martin, his wife, Gretchen, and son, Billy Jr., to spend several weeks at the resort at Leaf Lakes north of Henning.
Snyder, who first worked for the Henning school system in 1965, worked part-time the summer of 1970 at Jim & Fern’s, an on-sale and off-sale liquor establishment in Ottertail. That’s where he first met Billy Martin.
“I went to the liquor store one evening, as a regular customer, and recognized Billy. I went up to him and asked if I could ask him a few questions about baseball,” Snyder recalled.
“He said, ‘Yes, I’d be happy to talk baseball, a game I love.’ Our first conversation lasted two hours.”
Later, the two of them connected at Jim & Fern’s, when Snyder was working there or when Martin came in as a customer. “We had conversations at least a dozen times that summer,” Snyder said.
Later, Jim & Fern’s bar became Art & Dee’s Wheel Bar in Ottertail.
“Billy was appreciative of me asking questions about baseball that he was comfortable with in answering,” Snyder said. “Billy said he was happy that I didn’t bring up negative circumstances, such as his disagreements with Twins owner Calvin Griffith.”
Martin, while at the resort with his wife and son, enjoyed activities such as fishing and swimming and just plain relaxing.
One night Martin was at the bar when Snyder was working at Jim & Fern’s. About five guys were at a nearby table making some disparaging remarks about Billy, which Martin could easily hear.
“I could tell that Billy was getting more and more irritated,” Snyder recalled. “He finally got up and I held my breath, knowing that Billy at times loved a fight.”
Instead, Martin plopped a $50 bill in front of Snyder.
“He said to buy each of the five guys a drink and then for me to keep the change,” Snyder said. “That was his way of keeping the peace, avoiding a fight, and showing his friendship to me. It was something I deeply appreciated.”
Later in the summer Billy Martin connected one last time with Snyder at Jim & Fern’s.
“He came in and with an excited voice said, ‘Great news. I’ll be back in baseball in 1971.’ I can’t give you the details but you’ll know about this within a couple of days.”
Sure enough, two days later, the sports world found out that Billy Martin would manage the Detroit Tigers for the 1971 baseball season.
“I was happy for Billy,” Snyder said.
Snyder, in the fall of 1970, went back to work in the Henning public school system. He was a social studies teacher, served as athletic director and worked for the school system for 34 years.
Snyder retired in 1999 and resides in the Twin Cities. He returns to lakes country near Henning in the summer months.
After his tenure at Detroit, Martin managed the Texas Rangers. Then it was on to the New York Yankees. He led his team to the World Series title in 1977.
Sadly, Martin could not get along with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner. He eventually left an on-again and off-again managerial relationship. His final job as manager was with the Oakland Athletics.
Martin, for much of his life, battled alcoholism. He died at age 61 in 1989 during a traffic accident in upper state New York.
“Billy, like all of us, had the ups and downs of life,” Snyder said. “Sadly, he had challenges far worse than many of us experienced. I for one want to remember his good personal qualities. He also had success as both a baseball player and baseball manager.”