Vets Committee to vote on fiery Martin
Former Yankee distinguished himself more as manager
If all it took for a manager to get into the Hall of Fame was turning franchises around, winning games and keeping teams in pennant races, Billy Martin might be a shoo-in. There is no getting around the fact, however, that controversy figured prominently in the career of a manager with an otherwise agile mind and keen sense of the game in which he made enough of a reputation to be hired nine times.
Five of those hires were by one team, the Yankees, whose owner, George Steinbrenner, admired Martin's competitive feistiness but also loathed an off-field lifestyle marred by physical and verbal confrontations fueled by excessive drinking that resulted in five firings. Alcohol played a part in Martin's death on Christmas Day of 1989 in a crash of a pick-up truck driven by a close friend after an afternoon of drinking in Binghamton, N.Y.
This is despite a personal lifestyle that had elements of his namesake. "Billy the Kid," Martin was a manager with a track record of winning wherever he went, which included Minnesota, Detroit, Texas and his hometown, Oakland, as well as the five tours in the Bronx. In 16 seasons as a manager, Martin had a .553 winning percentage with 1,253 victories, 31st on the career list, and 1,013 losses. His teams won more than 90 games six times while earning five division titles, two pennants and a World Series championship. Along the way, there were shouting matches with umpires and altercations on and off the field with players and civilians alike.
Martin's combativeness was evident during an 11-season playing career as a second baseman in which the .257 career hitter established the reputation of a battler with a chip on his shoulder, dating from humble beginnings in Berkeley, Calif., where he was born Alfred Manual Martin in 1928, coming from Portuguese and Italian descent. "Billy," a nickname stemming from "bello," the Italian word for beautiful, was still an infant when his parents separated.
His fondest playing memories came in his years with the Yankees under Casey Stengel, with whom he had first played with the Oakland Oaks in the Pacific Coast League. When Stengel took over as manager of the Yankees in 1949, he urged them to sign Martin, who went on to hit .333 with five home runs and 19 RBIs in 28 World Series games while winning four championship rings. Martin got one for the thumb when he managed the Yankees to the World Series title in 1977, their first in 15 years.
Martin's two-fisted style included well-publicized bouts with players such as outfielder Jimmy Piersall and pitcher Jim Brewer. Martin's participation in a brawl at New York's Copacabana nightclub in 1957 led to his being traded to Kansas City because general manager George Weiss believed him a negative influence on Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford, Martin's closest friends on the team.
Mantle and Ford ended up in the Hall of Fame, but for Martin to get there, it will be based on his managerial record. He is one of 15 candidates on the Veterans Committee composite ballot of executives, managers and umpires that is voted on every four years. In the 2003 election, Martin received 28 votes from 81 ballots cast among living Hall of Famers, Ford Frick Award and J.G. Taylor Spink Award winners, or 27.8 percent. A candidate needs to be on 75 percent of ballots submitted to be elected.
Martin's debut as a big-league manager was in 1969 with the Twins, who won the American League West title in the first year of divisional play and then were swept in the AL Championship Series by the Orioles. That loss didn't have as much to do with Martin not coming back the next year as did his fighting with one of his own players, pitcher Dave Boswell, late that season outside a bar in Detroit, ironically Martin's next managerial stop.
August Busch Jr.
The aging Tigers won 91 games and finished second in the AL East in 1971, then won the division title the next year only to lose to the A's in five games in the best-of-5 ALCS. Martin was fired in September 1973 after continued battles with the front office but was hired by the Rangers less than a week later. One year after losing 105 games, Texas won 84 under Martin in 1974. More butting heads with management cost Martin his Rangers job, but soon after, he replaced Bill Virdon as manager of the Yankees in August 1975.
In 1976, Martin directed the Yankees into their first World Series in 12 years, but they were swept by the Reds. The next year, 20 years after his banishment as a player, Martin guided the Yankees to a 100-victory season and their first championship since 1962. The good times for Martin ended in 1978 when he had several run-ins with slugger Reggie Jackson and was fired in July for saying about Jackson and Steinbrenner (who had been convicted of making illegal campaign contributions to Richard Nixon in 1972), "One's a born liar, and the other's convicted."
And yet, Steinbrenner rehired Martin to run the Yankees four more times over the next 10 years. Each time, Martin was fired for behavior away from the ballpark: in 1979 for striking a marshmallow salesman in a bar, in 1983 for complaining about the front office, in 1985 for a brawl in a Baltimore hotel with Yankees pitcher Ed Whitson in which Martin broke his arm, and in 1988 for an altercation with bathroom attendants in a Texas strip club.
In 1981, Martin returned to the Bay Area and led a young A's team into the ALCS, where they lost to the Yankees. The A's marketed Martin's style as "Billy Ball," emphasizing his penchant for aggressiveness on the basepaths and fondness for the squeeze play. He was dismissed the next year, another example of his time with a team being short-lived. Actually, Billy Martin's time, period, was unfortunately short-lived.
Jack O'Connell is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.