Just win, Billy

Fiery manager won in each of his big league stops

November 04, 2013
2014 Expansion Era candidate Billy Martin. (NBHOF Library)

Only one manager in the history of baseball has skippered one team five different times.

Billy Martin may be a controversial figure in New York Yankees history, but what is indisputable was the success he found on the diamond.

Martin, who won two pennants and a World Series title in eight years managing the Bronx Bombers, is one of 12 finalists on this year’s Expansion Era ballot that will be considered by the committee on managers, umpires, executives and long-retired players at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The 16-person committee will vote on Dec. 8 at baseball’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Fla., and the results of the vote will be announced Dec. 9.

The 12 candidates on the Expansion Era Committee ballot are: Dave Concepcion, Bobby Cox, Steve Garvey, Tommy John, Tony La Russa, Marvin Miller, Dave Parker, Dan Quisenberry, Ted Simmons, George Steinbrenner, Joe Torre and Martin. Any candidate who receives at least 75 percent of all ballots cast will be enshrined in the Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2014.

The Committee consists of Hall of Famers Rod Carew, Carlton Fisk, Whitey Herzog, Tommy Lasorda, Joe Morgan, Paul Molitor, Phil Niekro and Frank Robinson; executives Paul Beeston, Andy MacPhail, David Montgomery and Jerry Reinsdorf; and media members Steve Hirdt, Bruce Jenkins, Jack O’Connell and Jim Reeves.

Martin was born May 16, 1928, in Berkeley, Calif. While attending Berkeley High School, Martin began playing for the Oakland Junior Oaks, a team affiliated with the Pacific Coast League’s Oakland Oaks. After graduation, he played for the Idaho Falls in the Class D Pioneer League and then was signed to the Oaks in 1947.

The following season, Martin played under manager Casey Stengel, who admired his aggressive play. When Stengel became manager of the Yankees, he advised the club to obtain Martin. In 1950, he debuted at second base for New York.

“If liking a kid who will never let you down in the clutch is favoritism, then I plead guilty," said Stengel.

Martin helped his team to a win in the 1952 World Series by making a game-saving catch on an infield pop-up in Game 7. In 1953, he had career highs in home runs (15), RBI (75), doubles (24), triples (6) and was named the MVP of the World Series after posting a .500 batting average and .958 slugging average. His only All-Star appearance came in 1956.

In 1957, Yankees general manager George Weiss traded Martin to Kansas City. Over the next five seasons, Martin played for six different clubs: Kansas City, Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Minnesota.

Following his retirement, Martin spent eight years in the Twins organization as a scout, third base coach and minor league manager. After the 1968 season, Martin was named the team’s big league manager. He won a division championship in his only season at the helm, but was fired after the Twins lost the American League Championship Series to the Orioles.

In 1971, he was named manager of the Detroit Tigers. He guided the team to a first place finish in 1972, where they lost the ALCS to the A’s. He was fired in 1973.

"He's a good manager," Stengel said. "He might be a little selfish about some of the things he does and he may think he knows more about baseball than anybody else, but it wouldn't surprise me if he was right."

He managed the Texas Rangers from 1973-75, leading them from worst to second in his first two seasons, before being fired in his third. He began managing the Yankees in 1975 and led the Bronx Bombers to the 1976 AL pennant, losing the World Series to the Reds. Then in 1977, Martin took the Yankees back to the World Series, where they beat the Dodgers.

He was fired from the Yankees for the first time during the 1978 season after publicly feuding with both owner George Steinbrenner and star outfielder Reggie Jackson. He was re-hired midway through the 1979 season, but was let go prior to the 1980 campaign.

Martin then took over the A’s in 1980, and won the AL West title in 1981 – and was named the team’s general manager. He was fired from both positions a year later when the team’s record plummeted.

“I get fired because I'm not a yes-man,” said Martin before being dismissed by the A’s. “The world's full of yes-men. The first year that I became manager, 1969, with the Twins, I won a division championship. And got fired. The Tigers hired me. I had made $35,000 and the Tigers gave me a big raise. I won another division title and got fired again. Texas hired me, and with a bigger raise. I came in second, and got fired. The Yankees hired me, and tripled my salary. When I got fired there, and Oakland hired me – they gave me an unbelievable raise. I've got a long-term contract now, but if I get fired again, I might run for President."

Martin returned to the Yankees three more times, but never for longer than one full season. In 1989, Martin was working as a special consultant to Steinbrenner and preparing for his sixth stint with the Bombers when he was killed in a one-car crash on Christmas Day. Martin was a passenger in the car.

“Billy was a true Yankee – one of the truest ever,” said former Yankees shortstop and manager Bucky Dent. “He always said he wanted to die a Yankee. He was his own man. He was fiery and could be charming. He was a great manager."

Martin finished his 16-year managing career with 1,253 wins, a .553 winning percentage, five division championships, two pennants and a World Series title. His gravestone is engraved with his quote: “I may not have been the best Yankee to put on the pinstripes, but I am the proudest.”

Samantha Carr is a freelance writer from Rochester, N.Y.