Sports Profile: Billy Martin
This August 10, 2004 will mark the 18th
anniversary of Billy Martin Day, a day he deserved, a day his uniform
number Number One was retired.
Back in the 1980s when I was hard at work on one of my
baseball books and also writing for Yankees Magazine, I had an
appointment to interview Billy Martin. The book was "Baseball's Greatest
Managers" and he was one of its chapter subjects.
I walked into his office at Yankee Stadium and he said quietly: "You
don't belong here. Our interview appointment is tomorrow."
It was that day, but I said: "Okay, see you tomorrow."
I was there the next day. Martin was not as friendly or as controlled.
He snapped. "I have to teach you guys how to do your job. We had an
interview appointment for next week." He puffed away on his pipe and
said, "See you then."
We never did the interview - my decision, but he did wind up in the
book. And when he saw me from time to time, he did smile.
When he was old enough to listen, Alfred Manuel (Billy) Pesano's mother
told him: "Don't take nothing from nobody. If you can't hit 'em, bite 'em."
He never forgot what she said. There were the two seasons spent as a
player with Oakland in the Pacific Coast League where Billy became
"Casey's boy." When Stengel took over as Yankee manager in 1949, the two
were re-united. Undersized, pugnacious - Martin did not fit the typical
But he was a contributing member of those great Yankee teams of the
1950s, batting .333 lifetime in the World Series, making the 1956 All
Star team. In 1957 when "Billy the Kid" was a participant in a melee at
the Copacabana nightclub, George Weiss, never a fan of Martin, traded
him away to Kansas City.
On Old Timer's Day 1975, after 18 years plus of being away Billy Martin
returned, put on the uniform with Number One and took over as Yankee
manager. There was a pennant in 1976, another pennant in 1977 and a
World Series win. Fans loved Billy Martin and his "Billy Ball," daring
Then on July 25, 1978, George Steinbrenner fired Billy Martin. Four days
later at Old Timers' Day,it was announced that Martin would return as
manager in 1980. His return came a bit earlier than announced. On July
l9, 1979, the hyper Martin replaced Bob Lemon who had replaced him as
In his second stint, Martin guided the Yankees to fourth place in the
American League East. Key injuries, sub-par hurling by Catfish Hunter,
Thurman Munson's death - all contributed to the mediocre performance of
the team. Then in October of l979 Martin had a fight with a
marshmallow salesman in a Minnesota hotel and was fired for the second
The l98l baseball "split season" was the time of the players' strike.
The Yankees also had a split season with managers. Gene Michael replaced
Bob Lemon. The Yankees matched up in the American League Championship
Series against Oakland, managed by Billy Martin who had taken control of
the moribund franchise in 1980, driven it to a second place finish, won
the Manager of the Year award.
"Bobby Ball" (Bob Lemon) versus "Billy Ball." The Yankees, with just too
much talent prevailed. Sweeping Oakland in three games, they had their
The 1982 Yankees finished in fifth place, a game out of last place. On
January 11, l983, the third coming in eight years of Billy Martin was in
place. The Yanks were in sixth place on May l6. Attendance was down.
Martin was out of control.
In mid-summer he was suspended for three days for kicking dirt on one
umpire, and then suspended for a couple of games for calling another
umpire "a stone liar." Martin would close himself off in the manager's
office. Drinking more and more, his nastiness increased. The l983
Yankees finished in third place.
Coach Don Zimmer, players like Steve Kemp, Ken Griffey and Goose Gossage,
made it clear: if Billy returned in 1984, they would not.
On December l6, l983 it was HELLO, YOGI BERRA. GOOD BYE, BILLY MARTIN!
The l985 Yankees added speedy Ricky Henderson to a lineup that included
Mattingly, Winfield and Baylor. Off to a 6-l0, the headlines on April
25, l985 blared: "YOGI'S OUT, BILLY'S BACK."
Despite the MVP season of Don Mattingly, the 20-win season of Ron
Guidry, the performances of Winfield, Henderson and Baylor, it was
another frustrating season. The Yankees fell two games shy of Toronto in
the American League East.
On October 27, 1985, Martin was fired the fourth time. On October l9,
l987, Billy Martin returned as manager for the fifth time. On June 23,
l988, Billy Martin was out as manager.
In 16 years as a manager with five different franchises, Billy Martin
managed 2267 games, winning 1253, losing 1013. But the team he really
belonged to was the New York Yankees where he was Number One. His record
as Yankee manager was 556 wins, 385 losses, a two American League titles
and the one world championship
Five times in the l980s, he was manager of the Yankees. There were those
who were waiting for his sixth time in that role. But on Christmas Day
l989 Billy Martin, 61, was killed in an automobile accident.
"We used to tease each other about whose liver would go first," Mickey
Mantle said. "I never thought it would end for him this way.
# # #
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Harvey Frommer at:
About the Author:
Harvey Frommer is in his 38th year of writing books.
A noted oral historian and sports journalist, the author of 42 sports
books including the classics: "New York City Baseball,1947-1957" and
"Shoeless Joe and Ragtime Baseball," his acclaimed REMEMBERING YANKEE
STADIUM was published in 2008 and his REMEMBERING FENWAY PARK: AN ORAL
AND NARRATIVE HISTORY OF THE HOME OF RED SOX NATION was published to
acclaim in 2011. The prolific Frommer is at work on When It Was
Just a Game, An Oral History on Super Bowel One.
His work has appeared in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times,
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