Alfred Manuel "Billy" Martin, Jr. (May 16 1928–December 25 1989) was an American second baseman and manager in Major League Baseball. 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 and ; the Yankees were swept in the 1976 World Series by the dynastic 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 a drinking problem.
Martin grew up in a dangerous area of Berkeley, and had to fight off the many gang members that gave him trouble. This is most likely the source of where Martin's love of fighting came from. He grew up playing baseball at a city park across the street from his home, James Kenney Park. Baseball pro and fellow Berkeley native Augie Galan lived nearby and would bring some of his professional friends to James Kenney Park in the off-season to practice. Kids in the neighborhood, including Martin, would come by to watch and learn.
Martin began his major league career in 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 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. Martin was an All-Star in . In , Martin led the league in sacrifice hits, with 13.
After his trade to the Kansas City Athletics (see Altercations below), Martin's career declined, with several short stints with six different teams over the final 4½ years of his playing career: the Athletics, the Detroit Tigers, the Cleveland Indians, the Cincinnati Reds, the Milwaukee Braves and the Minnesota Twins.
On August 4, , 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 million for the loss of Brewer's services. While the Cubs dropped their case, Brewer pursued his, and in , a judge ordered Martin to pay $10,000 in damages. When informed of the judgment by the press, he asked sarcastically, "How do they want it? Cash or check?"
In , Martin's only season as manager of the Twins, he won a division championship. He was fired after the season following an August fight in Detroit with one of his pitchers, Dave Boswell, in an alley outside the legendary Lindell A.C. bar. Martin spent the season out of baseball.
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, the man who gave LeFlore his break, was fired in August of that same year for telling Tiger pitchers to throw at opposing hitters. In 1978, Martin played himself in the CBS TV movie "One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story."
After a incident with Reggie Jackson in which Martin suspended Jackson for bunting against orders, Martin was forced to resign after telling reporters, "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 few days later, Martin resigned (reportedly under pressure from Steinbrenner). Bob Lemon was named Yankees manager. 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 season (with Lemon moving to the front office). Steinbrenner and Martin had apparently patched up their differences, but Lemon managed the team for the rest of 1978.
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 Larry 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.
At the time of his death, Martin was preparing to manage the Yankees a sixth time for the season, to the point of having assembled a coaching staff.
On August 1, 1972, he and his Tigers used stalling tactics with rain on the horizon and Detroit trailing against the Brewers while the Brewers' manager tried to speed up the game. The game lasted 6 innings with the Brewers winning 9-0.
Sometimes he would literally draw a lineup out of a hat if the team was struggling to win such as on April 21st, 1977 with the Yankees and August 13th, 1972 with the Tigers in the first game of a doubleheader, in the year before the introduction of the designated hitter.
On October 2, 1974, Martin allowed Fergie Jenkins to help his own cause instead of using the DH. Jenkins broke up Twins pitcher Jim Hughes' no-hitter in the 6th inning with a single and later scored a run. The Rangers won 2-1.
In the Billy Ball era with the Oakland Athletics (1980-1982), he would use hit-and-run, squeeze plays, and base stealing but ironically resulting in leading the American League in home runs. As a result of Billy Ball, Rickey Henderson stole 130 bases in 1982, a single-season record unlikely ever to be broken. He was dismissed at the end of the 1982 season because of his overuse of his starting pitchers during his tenure.
On July 24, 1983, in the Pine Tar Game, later concluded on August 18, , Martin moved Mattingly from first base to second base while batting seventh; Ron Guidry was inserted into center field and the ninth spot in the batting order. Since AL President Lee MacPhail overturned the umpires' decision about the length of pine tar on George Brett's bat, the game had to be played to the conclusion. In the bottom of the ninth, the last third of the Yankees lineup was due up with Don Mattingly, Roy Smalley, and Oscar Gamble, pinch hitting for Guidry, all failing to get on base to seal a controversial win for the Royals, 5–4.
On June 11, 1988, Martin inserted pitcher Rick Rhoden 7th in the starting lineup as the designated hitter because there was a shortage of right-handed batters to face Jeff Ballard, a left-handed pitcher. Rhoden hit a sacrifice fly which resulted in an RBI as well as a walk before being pinch-hit for by Jose Cruz in the 5th inning. The Yankees beat Baltimore 8–6.
Martin was brought in to be a guest celebrity ring announcer at the inaugural WrestleMania event held in March 1985, during his time as the manager of the Yankees, where he was referred to as 'New York's Number One'. (The number was retired the following year.) The crowd gave him a hero's ovation. Martin is the first baseball-crossover guest celebrity to appear in any of the WrestleMania pay-per-views. Martin's appearance at the inaugural event was referenced at WrestleMania X in 1994.
On August 10, , 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."
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 would, eventually, both precede and succeed Piniella as Yankees manager.)
His frequent firings—and threats of being fired—were lampooned in a '70's Miller Lite beer commercial in which Steinbrenner tells Martin "You're fired!" to which Martin replies "Oh, no, not again!" After Martin's real-life rehiring, the commercial was resurrected, only with Steinbrenner's line redubbed to say "You're hired!"
In the film Ocean's Thirteen, a "Billy Martin" is used as a nickname for a second chance, presumably to make amends and do the right thing before being pursued in justified retaliation.
On the TV show, Married with Children, Al Bundy and Jefferson D'Arcy (and others) more than once ended up in an altercation over the answer to the question "Who was in the first light beer commercial?" The answer was purported to be either Billy Martin or Bubba Smith.
On the TV show Bizarre, the turbulent Yankee manager situation was parodied by having press conferences every 10 minutes hiring or firing a fictitious Yankees manager named "Martin Billy Lemon" (combining the names of Yankee managers Bob Lemon and Billy Martin). Martin also appeared on the show in person as manager of the As, where the fictitious stunt man Super Dave Osborne (famous for his spectacular failures) did a stunt where he had to say a bunch of insults at Billy Martin and "deal" with Martin's violent reaction.
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."
In the 1994 movie The Scout, Albert Brooks wants a psychiatrist to send a letter to George Steinbrenner, and adds that it might be nice to put "sorry about Billy Martin" in the closing. When the psychiatrist wonders who Billy Martin is, Brooks replies "Oh, just some guy he kept firing until he finally died."
In the Seinfeld episode ("The Wink"), after George Costanza accidentally gets one of his co-workers in the Yankees organization fired, the fictional George Steinbrenner goes on a long rant to George about the many people he has had to let go over the years. He mentions Billy Martin four times.
Billy Martin was eulogized by John Cardinal 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 from the grave of Babe Ruth. The following epitaph by Billy Martin himself appears on the headstone: I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform but I was the proudest. Former President of the United States Richard Nixon attended Martin's funeral.