Billy Martin so loved shortstop Bobby Meacham that the gladiatorial New York Yankees manager didn't want to lose him for Game 74 of a 162-game schedule even to witness the birth of the Meachams' first child.
The 1985 Yankees got off to a slow start, firing manager Yogi Berra after 16 games. They were chasing the Toronto Blue Jays and on the verge of sweeping a three-game series in Exhibition Stadium.
Gari Meacham was overdue with their daughter, Brooke, back home in New Jersey.
"The team needed me," Meacham said last week in his Buffalo Bisons manager's office. The Buffalo News interviewed him for an oral history on the '85 Yankees. "Billy came to me every road trip and said, 'I know your wife's pregnant. Let me know what's going on.'
"We were in Toronto, and Wednesday [July 3] was a noon game for Canada Day. My wife had seen the doctor and was going to have a C-section that Monday morning."
Neither the doctor nor the Meachams, it turned out, would have the final say.
Martin conferred with Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, a magnanimous boss.
To a point.
"I told Billy when I found out about the C-section," Meacham recalled, "and he said, 'OK, let me tell George and see what he says.' I was, like, 'Ask George?'
"He comes back and hands me the phone. It's George, who says, 'I heard what's going on, and I can't go against what my manager says. You can't miss the game Wednesday.'
"I don't know how I'm going to tell my wife I can't be there for the birth of my kid."
Meacham's teammates were displeased when they discovered Martin and Steinbrenner didn't want him to leave the team for even one day.
They urged Meacham to go home and be with Gari anyway.
"Meach was a great guy, a great person," Yankees first baseman Don Mattingly said. "Him and his wife, Gari, they were family. They are strong in their faith and lived it.
"The ones that give you the words but don't live it, they really turn you off, right? But the ones who live it, talk it and breathe it, that resonates more with me than anything on the field."
Word of Meacham's denied permission slip started to circulate among reporters who covered the team. Steinbrenner became concerned with backlash in the clubhouse and on the back pages of New York's newspapers.
"They were going to crush George," Meacham said. "Players are telling me I had to be there, but the owner tells me I can't. Billy comes back to me later and says, 'How about this? Ask your wife if she can talk to the doctor and do the C-section Wednesday night.'
"I called home, and she said, 'These guys are crazy! But I'll ask!' "
The doctor conceded. Meacham squeezed in one more game before Gari could deliver.
Meacham singled to lead off the fifth inning and scored one of the Yankees' only two runs. He also walked and had a stolen base. Yet the Blue Jays won, 3-2, in extra innings.
Steinbrenner dispatched his Learjet to fly Meacham home. A chauffeur picked him up. Meacham was amazed to see a phone in the back of the car (remember, it was 1985) and called the hospital to say he was on his way.
"I made it just in time," Meacham said, "but it also felt so good to be part of such a great team. They needed me not to miss a game."