Billy Martin was known as a fighter, he argued with then Yankee Owner George Steinbrenner, he fought with a marshmallow salesman and most famously he fought Reggie Jackson. Mostly Martin fought himself, and alcoholism. Despite the fighting there was no doubt that Billy Martin was one of the best managers of his time. He could take a bad team and turn it around and make it a winner. In time though he did almost every time out wear out his welcome at every stop no matter how good it appeared. With the Yankees alone he was know for being fired, hired, fired, hired, fired, hired, fired and at the time of his death he was on the verge of being hired by the Yankees a sixth time. The following is Martin’s career as a manager.
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 but the Twins were swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the first ever American League Championship Series. 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.
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 YankeesMartin 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).
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 was 4 inches (100 mm) taller and 40 pounds (18 kg) heavier. Martin suffered a broken arm, bruises, and cuts, while Whitson had a broken rib and a split lip. He was fired after the 1985 season.
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.
Smallthoughts: Old School Tuesday salutes …Billy Martin.
April 18, 1950 for the New York Yankees
Last MLB appearance
October 1, 1961 for the Minnesota Twins
Runs batted in
New York Yankees (1950–1957)
Kansas City Athletics (1957)
Detroit Tigers (1958)
Cleveland Indians (1959)
Cincinnati Reds (1960)
Milwaukee Braves (1961)
Minnesota Twins (1961)
Minnesota Twins (1969)
Detroit Tigers (1971–1973)
Texas Rangers (1973–1975)
New York Yankees (1975–1978, 1979)
Oakland Athletics (1980–1982)
New York Yankees (1983, 1985, 1988)
Career highlights and awards
5× World Series champion (1951–1953, 1956, 1977)
New York Yankees #1 retired