- Category : Baseball Player
- Type : GP
- Profile : 2/4 - Hermit / Opportunist
- Definition : Single
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Contagion 2
Alfred Manuel "Billy" Martin, Jr. (May 16, 1928 – December 25, 1989) was an American Major League Baseball second baseman and manager. He is best known as the manager of the New York Yankees, a position he held five different times. As Yankees manager, he led the team to consecutive American League pennants in 1976 and 1977; the Yankees were swept in the 1976 World Series by the Cincinnati Reds but triumphed over the Los Angeles Dodgers in six games in the 1977 World Series. He also had notable managerial tenures with several other AL squads, leading four of them to division championships.
As a manager, Martin was known for turning losing teams into winners, and for arguing animatedly with umpires, including a widely parodied routine in which he kicked dust on their feet. However, he was criticized for not getting along with veteran players and owners, burning out young pitchers, and for having an addiction to alcohol. During the 1969 through 1988 period as a manager, Martin totaled 1,253 victories with a .553 winning percentage.
Martin was born to Joan (who was known as "Jenny" both to her family and friends, according to Martin) and Alfred Manuel Martin, Sr. in Berkeley, California. He was of Portuguese and Italian descent, as his father was a native of the Azores and his mother was born to a large Italian family in California. Joan Martin always referred to Alfred, her second husband (she had been married before to a native Italian named Donato Pisani, whom her family arranged her to marry, and later married a singer named Jack Downey and took his name; the marriage lasted until Jack's death many years later), as the "jackass" because he abandoned the family. As Martin grew up in West Berkeley his mother took careful notice not to let her son know his actual name, not wanting him to know he shared the same name with Alfred Martin. He began being called "Billy" after his grandmother (Joan's mother) started calling him "Bello" (Italian masculine for "beautiful"; Martin said in his autobiography Number One that she would also call him "Bellitz,", a dialectical version of the same word). In fact, such careful care had been taken to hide Martin's birthname from him that he didn't find out until entering school; on his first day, while the teacher took attendance, his teacher called on "Alfred Martin" and young Billy thought she had skipped over him.
While attending Berkeley High School, Martin tried out for and began playing for the Oakland Junior Oaks, affiliated with the Pacific Coast League's Oakland Oaks club. After graduation in 1946, he was signed by Eddie Leishman, also a Berkeley native, to play for him for Idaho Falls the Class D Pioneer League, hitting .254 in 32 games. Late in the 1947 season, he was signed to the Oaks, playing for that team in 1948 and 1949. In 1948, Martin's manager was Casey Stengel, who admired his aggressive play. When Stengel became manager in New York, he had the Yankees obtain Martin.
Martin began his major league career in 1950 as a second baseman for the Yankees. As a player, he was known for making clutch plays. In the 1952 World Series, he made a game-saving catch on an infield popup in Game 7.
In the 1953 season, Martin had career highs in home runs (15), RBIs (75), doubles (24), triples (6), and times hit by pitch (6). He was the MVP of the 1953 World Series, as he batted .500 with a .958 slugging percentage and delivered with an RBI in Game 6 to clinch the series. Martin was an All-Star in 1956. In 1958, Martin led the league in sacrifice hits, with 13.
After his 1957 trade (which also included Ralph Terry, Woody Held, and Bob Martyn) to the Kansas City Athletics (see Altercations below), Martin's career declined, with several short stints with six different teams over the final 4½ seasons of his playing career: the Athletics, the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Indians, the Cincinnati Reds, the Milwaukee Braves and the Minnesota Twins.
Martin retired in 1961 with a career batting average of .257. He hit .333 in 28 World Series games for the Yankees.
Martin was well known for drinking to excess and for rowdy behavior when drinking. In 1957, a group of Yankees met at the famous Copacabana nightclub to celebrate Martin's 29th birthday; the party ultimately erupted into a much publicized brawl when Martin, Hank Bauer, Mickey Mantle and Yogi Berra challenged a few drunks who were hurling racial slurs at performer Sammy Davis, Jr. A month later, general manager George Weiss—believing Martin's nightlife was a bad influence on teammates Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle—exiled him to Kansas City. Martin felt betrayed by Stengel, with whom he had a strong father-son relationship, for failing to prevent the trade, and the two did not speak for years.
On August 4, 1960, Martin, then playing for the Reds, charged the mound in the second inning after receiving a brushback pitch from Chicago Cubs pitcher Jim Brewer. Martin threw his bat at Brewer, who picked up the bat and started to hand it to Martin as he approached. Martin punched Brewer in the right eye, breaking his cheekbone. Brewer was hospitalized for two months, and Martin served a five-day suspension. The Cubs sued Martin for $1,000,000 ($7,760,405 as of 2013), for the loss of Brewer's services. While the Cubs dropped their case, Brewer pursued his, and in 1969, a judge ordered Martin to pay $10,000 ($62,604 as of 2013), in damages. When informed of the judgment by the press, he asked sarcastically, "How do they want it? Cash or check?"
Martin's fights as a player also included bouts with Jimmy Piersall, Clint Courtney (twice), Matt Batts and Tommy Lasorda.
Martin spent eight years (1962-69) in the Minnesota organization after his retirement. He was a scout from 1962-64, the third-base coach of the Twins from 1965 through mid-June 1968, and manager of their AAA affiliate, the Denver Bears, for the last half of the 1968 campaign. He succeeded Cal Ermer as Minnesota's big-league manager following the '68 season.
In 1969, Martin's only season as manager of the Twins, he won a division championship. He was fired after the season following an August 1969 fight in Detroit with one of his pitchers, Dave Boswell, in an alley outside the legendary Lindell A.C. bar. Martin spent the 1970 season out of baseball.
Martin managed the Detroit Tigers from 1971 to 1973. He guided the team to a first place finish in 1972. During the 1972 American League Championship Series, Oakland Athletics shortstop Bert Campaneris threw his bat at Detroit pitcher Lerrin LaGrow after being hit by a pitch. In the ensuing brawl, an infuriated Martin had to be restrained by umpires and teammates to prevent him from going after Campaneris. The Tigers lost the series three games to two.
While posing for a baseball card as the manager for the Detroit Tigers in 1972, Martin gave photographers the middle finger. The gesture went unnoticed until after the card's release.
Martin also played a key role in the discovery of Ron LeFlore in a Michigan state prison. Martin was lured to Michigan State Prison by another inmate who knew Martin. The unorthodox Martin witnessed LeFlore's speed and strength. Martin helped LeFlore get permission for day-parole and a try out at Tiger Stadium. In the summer of 1973, the Tigers signed him to a contract, which enabled LeFlore to meet the conditions for parole. Martin was suspended and fired in September of that same year for telling Tiger pitchers to throw the spitball in a game to hitters in protest, believing Gaylord Perry was doing the same thing and openly mentioning this order to the press. In 1978, Martin played himself in the CBS TV movie One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story.
Martin's next managerial job was with the Texas Rangers, where he took the club from last place to second place in 1974, but was fired in 1975. He was hired by owner Bob Short replacing Whitey Herzog at the end of the 1973 season. He surprised the baseball world in 1974 by helping the Rangers to an 84-76 record after they had two consecutive 100+ loss seasons. But after the 1975 team went 44-51 under Martin, and after a confrontation with new Rangers owner Brad Corbett, Martin was fired on July 20 and Frank Lucchesi, one of Martin's coaches and a man who Martin thought was undermining him to Corbett so he could take the managerial position himself, was named as his replacement.
First stint with the Yankees
Martin was not out of work for very long, as the Yankees had also fired their manager, Bill Virdon. The former Yankee second baseman was hired to take his place, marking Martin's first time in a Yankee uniform since the 1957 trade. With Martin at the helm, the Yankees went 30-26 in their final 56 games of the 1975 season; he then managed them to the World Series in 1976 (their first pennant since 1964) and 1977, winning in 1977. He feuded publicly with both Yankee owner George Steinbrenner and star outfielder Reggie Jackson. In one especially infamous incident, on June 18, 1977, in the middle game of what would prove to be a three-game series sweep by the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, Martin pulled Jackson off the field (replacing him with Paul Blair) in mid-inning for failing to hustle and catch a shallow outfield fly ball by Jim Rice, allowing Rice to reach second base. The extremely angry and highly animated Martin had to be restrained by his coaches from getting into a fight with Jackson in the dugout during the nationally-televised Saturday afternoon game.
In 1978, Martin had another major incident with Jackson and it eventually led to him losing his position. On July 17 against the Kansas City Royals, Jackson came to the plate in the bottom of the tenth inning with Thurman Munson on base and Martin put the bunt sign on. After Jackson fouled the first pitch off, the sign was taken off and Jackson was given the sign to swing away. Jackson bunted again, and then on the third pitch he bunted again and popped out. A furious Martin demanded Jackson be suspended for the remainder of the season after the game, but after conversing with upper management Martin agreed on a five-game suspension. Then, when Jackson returned, he told reporters that he did not know why Martin had suspended him.
To make matters worse for Martin, he learned that Steinbrenner was looking to trade his manager to the Chicago White Sox, and in return would receive White Sox manager Bob Lemon. Martin finally had enough, and following the July 23 game in Chicago Martin lashed out at his star player and his owner. Martin told reporters in Chicago, "They deserve each other. One's a born liar Jackson, and the other's convicted Steinbrenner." (Martin was referring to Steinbrenner's conviction for making illegal donations to Richard Nixon's 1972 election campaign, a conviction that resulted in Steinbrenner being suspended from baseball for 15 months). Martin then boarded the team charter to Kansas City as word got around of what he had said.
The next day, having thought over the impact of his words Martin resigned in a tearful press conference in Kansas City (it was said, including by Martin in his 1980 autobiography, that Steinbrenner had sent Al Rosen, who was the team president at the time, to fire Martin at the hotel but Martin resigned before he could). Steinbrenner replaced Martin with Lemon, who had lost his job with the White Sox approximately a month earlier despite winning AL Manager of the Year in 1977. Soon afterward, at the annual Old-Timers' Game at Yankee Stadium, in a grandstanding gesture and an overwhelming demand by the fans, the Yankees had public address announcer Bob Sheppard introduce an unemployed Martin as the Yankees' next manager for the 1980 season (with Lemon moving to the front office). Steinbrenner and Martin had apparently patched up their differences, but Lemon managed the team for 1978-1979.
Second stint with the Yankees
In 1979, the Yankees got off to a slow start under Lemon. Injuries to Reggie Jackson and Goose Gossage as well as the death of Thurman Munson mid-season had the Yankees reeling. Steinbrenner fired Lemon and brought back Martin earlier than previously planned. The Yankees failed to improve, however, and their streak of American League East division titles ended at three. After the 1979 season, Martin got into a fight with marshmallow salesman Joseph Cooper at a hotel in Minneapolis. Steinbrenner fired him after that and replaced him with Dick Howser for the 1980 season.
Martin, an East Bay native born and raised in Berkeley, resurfaced with the Oakland Athletics, where he perfected a style of play that became known as "Billyball" (characterized as featuring aggressive base running). Martin won the American League West Division title in the split season of 1981, swept the Kansas City Royals in the special division series (due to a players' strike-action), and then met the Yankees in the 1981 ALCS where his A's were swept by the Yankees. Martin's early success with the A's led to his designation as the club's general manager—giving him control over the baseball operations of the entire Oakland organization in 1981. Martin was fired from both positions when the 1982 Athletics plummeted to a 68-94 record, largely because he'd overworked many of the pitchers from the 1981 team.
Remaining stints with the Yankees
Martin returned to the New York Yankees in 1983, 1985, and 1988, but never for more than one full season. During his years as a major league manager, Art Fowler usually served as his pitching coach.
During the 1983 season, Martin was involved in one of the most controversial regular season games, known as the Pine Tar Incident, where umpires nullified a game-winning home run by Yankee nemesis, Kansas City Royals third baseman George Brett, when Martin protested that there was too much pine tar on his bat. Ultimately, American League President Lee MacPhail ruled in favor of the Royals protest, reinstating the home run, and replaying the game from the point of the nullification. At the start of the replayed game, Martin tried to protest on the grounds that Brett had missed a base. The umpires working this game, however, had anticipated this, and had obtained an affidavit from the crew who had worked the original game saying that Brett had indeed touched all the bases.
It was also alleged that Martin would chase a young Ken Griffey Jr. out of the clubhouse, when Griffey's father was playing for the Yankees, seeing that he didn't believe that children should be in the clubhouse. It was also mentioned on a few YES Network broadcasts that when Al Leiter would call a game, he mentioned that when he was a rookie with the Yankees and Martin found him lifting weights, he asked Leiter why he did it. He said it was to strengthen his arm. Martin was quoted as saying, "If you want to strengthen your arm, do some long toss."
On September 22, 1985, while at a hotel bar in Baltimore, Maryland, Martin fought one of his pitchers, Ed Whitson, who broke one of Martin's arms. After the season, Martin was fired, which many Yankee fans suspected was because of his altercation with Whitson.
At the time of his death, Martin was preparing to manage the Yankees a sixth time for the 1990 season, to the point of having assembled a coaching staff.
Other altercations as manager
Martin's sparring opponents as a manager also included two traveling secretaries (Minnesota's Howard Fox and Texas' Burt Hawkins) in a fight outside of Howard Wong's in Bloomington, Minnesota; Jack Sears, a fan outside Tiger Stadium; a Chicago cab driver who preferred soccer to baseball; sportswriter Ray Hagar, in a Reno indoor arena bar; marshmallow salesman Joseph Cooper; two bar patrons, in Anaheim and in Baltimore; and two bouncers in an Arlington topless bar.
Billy Martin's number 1 was retired by the New York Yankees in 1986.
On August 10, 1986, the Yankees retired Martin's uniform number 1 and dedicated a plaque in his honor for Monument Park at Yankee Stadium. The plaque contains the words, There has never been a greater competitor than Billy. Martin told the crowd, "I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I am the proudest."
Martin appeared on the 2011 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot. He did not receive enough votes for induction.
Many of his contemporaries have remarked on Martin's ability to surprise the opposition and his outside-the-box thinking. Commenting on Martin's strategy as a manager, Dave Winfield has stated that opposing players would often ask each other, "What's Billy doing now?" George Steinbrenner has stated that when Martin was in his best form, he was a "baseball genius." He has also been cited as an influence to other prominent managers, including Lou Piniella. Martin both preceded and succeeded Piniella as Yankees manager.
In popular culture
Martin was a guest celebrity ring announcer at the inaugural WrestleMania in March 1985, during his time as the manager of the Yankees, where he was referred to as 'New York's Number One'. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. Martin was the first baseball celebrity to appear in a WrestleMania.
On May 24, 1986, on the season finale of Saturday Night Live, co-host Martin was "fired" by executive producer Lorne Michaels for being "drunk" in a skit, slurring his lines. During the goodnights, Martin "sets fire" to the dressing room in retaliation. (Only three cast members would be re-hired the next season.) In 1988, on Saturday Night Live's "Weekend Update," comedian Dennis Miller opened the sports with, "In Calgary tonight, Katarina Witt won the gold medal in figure skating, prompting Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to fire manager Billy Martin."
Martin was played by John Turturro in the 2007 ESPN mini-series The Bronx is Burning, which follows the tumultuous summer of 1977 in New York City.
Billy Martin was married four times and had two children, a daughter named Kelly Ann and a son named Billy Joe. His first marriage was to Lois Berndt, by whom he had his daughter and who left him in 1954. He married Gretchen Winkler in 1961, by whom he had his son, and stayed married to her until 1979 when the two divorced. He was married a third time while he was managing in Oakland, but was never faithful to his third wife and eventually married his mistress, a woman named Jilluan Guiver, in January, 1988.
Martin was working as a special consultant to George Steinbrenner when he was killed in a low speed, single vehicle collision during an ice storm at the end of the driveway to his farm in Port Crane, north of Binghamton, New York, on Christmas Day 1989. He was pronounced dead at a hospital in Johnson City, New York, where efforts to revive him were unsuccessful. Reports of the crash indicated that Martin had been drinking earlier, and that his friend William Reedy consequently was driving him home in Martin's Ford pickup truck. However, several conspiracy theorists and writers (including Peter Golenbock, in his 1994 biography of Martin Wild, High and Tight) have asserted that Martin was the driver, and that Bill Reedy and Jill Martin covered up the truth for legal reasons. According to the HBO TV series Autopsy, forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden performed the examination on Martin and investigated the accident scene, including the pick-up truck in which Martin died. The examination revealed that Martin's impact injuries were all on the right side, and that hair and other DNA found on the right side of the shattered windshield belonged to Martin, who was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the accident. The final conclusion of the examination was that Reedy drove the pick-up and Martin was the passenger. As per request of the family no autopsy was performed.
Martin was eulogized by Cardinal John O'Connor at St. Patrick's Cathedral, New York, before his funeral at Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Hawthorne, New York. His grave is located about 150 feet (46 m) from the grave of Babe Ruth in Section 25. The following epitaph, said by Billy Martin himself at his number retiring ceremony at Yankee Stadium in 1986, appears on the headstone: I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform, but I was the proudest. Former United States President Richard Nixon and Yankee owner George Steinbrenner, along with many former New York Yankees greats attended Martin's funeral service.