Cubs and Jim Brewer Sue Billy Martin for Injuries Resulting from Bench Clearing Brawl

Brewer v. Martin, 238 N.E.2d 162, 96 Ill.App.2d 54 (Ill. App. 1 Dist., 1968)

What happened?
On August 4, 1960, Cubs southpaw Jim Brewer was making his fourth career major league start against the Cincinnati Reds. In the first inning he walked leadoff man Billy Martin, surrendered three singles and gave up two runs. When Martin came up to bat with two outs in the second inning, Brewer’s first pitch was near Martin’s head. Martin took exception to the second pitch, after which Martin’s bat “either left his hands or was thrown and landed between the pitcher’s mound and the first base.” An argument ensued and a fight between Brewer and Martin escalated into a beach-clearing brawl.

Billy Martin (L) and Jim Brewer (R)

During the melee, Martin punched Brewer in the face and Brewer sustained a broken orbital bone and fracture to his cheekbone area. He was hospitalized for an extended period of time and did not return to pitch in the 1960 season. As a result, Martin was suspended for five games and fined $500 by National League President Warren Giles.
Jim Brewer and the Chicago Cubs filed a lawsuit against Billy Martin seeking both compensatory and punitive damages for an aggregate total of $1,040,000. Brewer’s claims were based on the injuries he sustained and his loss of earning potential. The Cubs’ claims were based on the loss of Brewer’s services and to recoup the money they had spent on Brewer’s training, development and loss of his future services. When Martin found out about the lawsuit he responded, “I wonder if they want this in cash or by check.”
The Reds hired attorneys in Chicago to represent Martin in the lawsuit and represented him for a deposition taken in California in December 1960. Right before the deposition was taken, Martin was traded to the Milwaukee Braves. He played in 6 games for the Braves in before being shipped off to Minnesota where he finished out the year and his playing career in 1961.
As the date of the trial approached, the law firm that had been hired by the Reds to defend Billy Martin decided to withdraw because the Reds were not paying them and Martin had made no offer to personally pay their fees. They made contact with Martin to advise they would be moving to withdraw from the case and would no longer be defending him. On May 23, 1966 the law firm sent Martin a letter advising that their motion to withdraw was going to be heard on June 3, 1966. Martin denied having received this letter or the subsequent copy of the order granting the withdrawal.
When the case was called for trial, no one appeared for Billy Martin. The jury returned a verdict of $100,000 (approximately $720,000 today) against Martin and specifically found that “malice was the gist of the action.” After hearing about the verdict in the news, Martin hired attorneys in an attempt to set aside the judgment. The court reduced the verdict to $35,000 (approximately $250,000 today) but denied Martin’s request that the verdict be set aside. Martin appealed.

What was the issue on appeal?
The court was asked to decide whether the judgment of $35,000 should be set aside because Billy Martin did not know that the case was going to be tried and had no knowledge that the lawyers that had been representing him were granted a withdrawal from the case.

Who won?
Billy Martin. The appellate court reversed the trial court’s holding and remanded the case for a new trial to be held.

The courts hold in the highest regard that justice is achieved through the exercise of fairness to the both parties. Accordingly, the court is given discretion to set aside a judgment. They believed Martin in his claims that he had no knowledge that the case was coming up for trial or that his attorneys had successfully withdrawn from the case.
The court further held that there was a question of fact as to whether “words of provocation” alleged to have been asserted during the baseball game might have provided Martin with a defense.

What happened next?
It was reported that the case eventually settled out-of-court for $10,000 (approximately $72,000 today.)

Jim Brewer came back from his injuries and was a solid major league pitcher for the Cubs, Dodgers and Angels, was an All-Star in 1973 and pitched for 17 years in the majors. He died in an automobile accident on November, 16, 1987 at the age of 50.
Billy Martin went on to manage for parts of 16 seasons for the Twins, Tigers, Rangers, A’s and Yankees, with whom they won the World Series in 1977. He died in an automobile accident on December 25, 1989 at the age of 61.

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