Billy Martin

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Billy Martin
Billy Martin 1954.png
Martin with the Yankees in 1954
Second baseman / Manager
Born: (1928-05-16)May 16, 1928
Berkeley, California
Died: December 25, 1989(1989-12-25) (aged 61)
Johnson City, New York
Batted: Right Threw: Right
MLB debut
April 18, 1950, for the New York Yankees
Last MLB appearance
October 1, 1961, for the Minnesota Twins
MLB statistics
Batting average .257
Home runs 64
Runs batted in 333
Managerial record 1,253–1,013
Winning % .553

As player

As coach

As manager

Career highlights and awards

Alfred Manuel "Billy" Martin (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.

Martin had a distinguished playing career in the 1950s, highlighted by his years with the Yankees during which he performed at a high level in appearances in the World Series. He was also selected for the American League All Star team in 1956. In these years his infamous propensity for fisticuffs became established, both on and off the baseball field.

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.

Early life

Martin was born Alfred Manuel Pesano Jr. to Alfred Manuel Pesano Sr. and Joan Salvini "Jenny" Pesano 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. Alfred Sr. abandoned the family eight months later;[1] for this reason, Jenny always referred to Alfred, her second husband, as the "jackass."[2] (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.) Eventually, Jenny changed the family name to "Martin."[1] 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). 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 Pesano. In fact, such careful care had been taken to hide Martin's birthname from him that he didn't find out until entering junior high; on his first day in Seventh Grade, while the teacher took attendance, his teacher called on "Alfred Pesano" and young Billy thought she had skipped over him.[3]

Playing career

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, where his manager was Casey Stengel, who admired his aggressive play. Martin played for the Oaks in 1948 and 1949.[3]

Martin's game-saving catch off of Jackie Robinson's popup in Game 7 of the 1952 World Series.

When Stengel became the manager of the New York Yankees in 1949 he had the Yankees obtain Martin in 1950. That year, Martin batted .250 in 34 games.[3]

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.[4]

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 most valuable player 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 conscripted into the U.S. Army and spent all of the 1954 season and part of the 1955 season fulfilling his military obligation at Fort Carson in Colorado. He received an honorable discharge late in 1955 after reaching the rank of corporal.[5] 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, Woodie Held, and Bob Martyn) to the Kansas City Athletics, 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 (left) with Phil Rizzuto in the 1950s.

Managing career

Minnesota Twins

Martin spent eight years (196269) in the Minnesota organization after his retirement. He was a scout from 196264, the third-base coach of the Twins from 1965 through May 27, 1968, and manager of their Triple-A 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.

The Twins won the first American League West title (both leagues now had two divisions after expanding from 10 teams to 12) in Martin's only season as their manager. However, they were swept by the Baltimore Orioles in the first ever American League Championship Series. Martin was fired after the season following an August 1969 fight in Detroit with one of his pitchers, 20-game winner Dave Boswell, and outfielder Bob Allison in an alley outside the legendary Lindell A.C. bar. After knocking out Allison with one punch, Boswell was in turn knocked out by Martin; the pitcher received a cut that required 20 stitches. Martin spent the 1970 season out of baseball.

Detroit Tigers

Martin managed the Detroit Tigers from 1971 to 1973. He guided the Tigers to their first American League Eastern Division Championship 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, the first year that the ALCS went the full five games (It was the first such year for the NLCS as well.)

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 tryout at Tiger Stadium. In the summer of 1973, the Tigers signed him to a contract, which enabled LeFlore to meet the conditions for parole. Later that year, Martin brazenly told the press that he had ordered his pitchers to throw spitballs and shine balls, reportedly because Gaylord Perry was frequently throwing spitballs when the Tigers faced him. American League president Joe Cronin suspended him for three days, but just as he was due to come off the suspension, the Tigers fired him.[1]

Texas Rangers

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 as Yankees Manager in 1983

Martin was not out of work for very long. Two weeks after Texas fired Martin, Bill Virdon was fired by the Yankees. 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 coaches Elston Howard and Yogi Berra 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 was accused of racism for demanding Jackson's suspension after word leaked to the press that Sparky Lyle, who was going through his own problems with team management, violated team rules that same day when he left the stadium and went home without permission after refusing to pitch a second full inning, yet received no punishment.[6] Then 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." He went on to call Jackson a "born liar" and then referred to Steinbrenner's arrest for making illegal contributions to President Richard Nixon's 1972 campaign by saying "and the other's convicted."[7]

The next day, Martin resigned in a tearful press conference in Kansas City after having realized the impact of what he had said and the potential backlash it would have; Martin would later say in his 1980 autobiography Number 1 that he had learned that if he had not resigned, team president Al Rosen had been dispatched to the team's hotel to fire him on sight.

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 due to the overwhelming demand of the fans, the Yankees had public address announcer Bob Sheppard introduce an unemployed Martin as the Yankees' next manager for the 1980 season, while Lemon would manage the rest of the 1978 and 1979 seasons.

Second stint with the Yankees

Martin (center) with pitcher Catfish Hunter and Brad Gulden during a 1979 game soon after Thurman Munson's death.

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. According to Cooper. Cooper said that Martin should not have won his American League Manager of the Year award, which he believed should have gone to Dick Williams or Earl Weaver. Martin, in his autobiography, replied by mocking Cooper's profession and in the process angered him to the point where Cooper challenged Martin to a fight. Martin responded by wagering $500 that he could beat Cooper in a fight and then proceeded to do so.[8] Steinbrenner fired him after that and replaced him with Dick Howser for the 1980 season.

Oakland Athletics

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), and then met the Yankees in the 1981 ALCS where his A's were quickly swept. 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. Years later, Rob Neyer estimated that the four top starters from the 1981 team threw anywhere from 120-140 pitches per complete game—a heavy workload for pitchers as young as the members of the 1981 staff were.[9]

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. Each time, while his teams managed to make good accounts of themselves on the field, he was fired due to his behavior on and off the field.

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 go-ahead 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.

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.[10] 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.

Managerial record

Team From To Regular season record Post–season record
W L Win % W L Win %
Minnesota Twins 1969 1969 97 65 .599 0 3 .000
Detroit Tigers 1971 1973 248 204 .549 2 3 .400
Texas Rangers 1973 1975 137 141 .493 0 0
New York Yankees 1975 1978 279 192 .592 10 10 .500
New York Yankees 1979 1979 55 40 .579 0 0
Oakland Athletics 1980 1982 215 218 .497 3 3 .500
New York Yankees 1983 1983 91 71 .562 0 0
New York Yankees 1985 1985 91 54 .628 0 0
New York Yankees 1988 1988 40 28 .588 0 0
Total 1253 1013 .553 15 19 .441


Billy Martin's number 1 was retired by the New York Yankees in 1986.
Martin's plaque in Monument Park.

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."

The baseball fields at Bushrod Park in Oakland are named for Martin.[12]

Martin appeared on the 2011 Baseball Hall of Fame ballot.[13] He did not receive enough votes for induction.[14]

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

In 1978, Martin played himself in the CBS TV movie One in a Million: The Ron LeFlore Story.

On the comedy show Bizarre, Martin laid into Super Dave Osborne (albeit behind Martin's closed manager's office door at the Oakland Coliseum) after Osborne prodded him with insults such as "Your Billy Ball stinks" and "You're a stupid little Greek". Osborne then amended the latter to "stupid Italian", which caused Martin to thrash the stuntman some more.

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 at 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 set the dressing room on fire in retaliation, a staged scene set as a cliffhanger for the following season.[15] 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", as part of a continuous running gag on the segment where a recent sporting event "forces" Steinbrenner to fire whoever is managing the team in retaliation.

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.

The 1994 American comedy film The Scout features a comedic reference to Martin's excessive firings at the hands of George Steinbrenner.

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.

Martin is memorialized in the song "Billy Martin Requiem" by New York City artist Little Annie.

In the 2007 film Ocean's Thirteen, to offer someone a 'Billy Martin' is to give them a second chance (a reference to the numerous times Martin was fired and rehired by the Yankees).

Personal life

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. She divorced him in 1955, after he had contested the action for more than a year on the grounds that he was Catholic.[16] He married Gretchen Winkler in 1961, by whom he had his son, and stayed married to her until 1979, when the two divorced.[16] He was married a third time, to Heather Ervolino, while he was managing in Oakland, but was never faithful to his third wife and eventually married his mistress, a woman named Jillian Guiver, in January 1988.[17]

In 1978, Martin and sports agent Doug Newton opened "Billy Martin's", a western wear boutique.[18] Newton bought out Martin in 1982, and the store remained open until 2010.[19]


Billy Martin's grave in Gate of Heaven Cemetery

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.[20]

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 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.[21]

See also


In-line citations
  1. ^ a b c Keenan, Jimmy; Russo, Frank. Billy Martin. Society for American Baseball Research, 2014.
  2. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2006-01-28. Retrieved 2006-01-28.  Martin's father from the Azores Portugal, later migrated to Hawaii
  3. ^ a b c Nick Acocella. "Billy battled opponents, himself". ESPN. Retrieved April 23, 2014. 
  4. ^ Harold Friend (October 15, 2009). "Billy Martin's Great 1953 World Series". Bleacher Report. 
  5. ^ Vorgin, Bill (March 15, 2015). "Side Streets: Billy Martin, '53 World Series MVP, was just another Fort Carson GI a few months later". Colorado Springs Gazette. Retrieved 12 December 2017. 
  6. ^ Lyle and Martin's accounts from their respective autobiographies; in The Bronx Zoo Lyle attributes this to sportswriter Henry Hecht while in Number 1, Martin cited the Amsterdam News.
  7. ^ Webley, Kayla (2010-07-13). "Hiring and Firing Billy Martin – Top 10 George Steinbrenner Moments – TIME". Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  8. ^,6642925
  9. ^ Neyer, Rob (2006). Rob Neyer's Big Book of Baseball Blunders. New York City: Fireside. ISBN 0-7432-8491-7. 
  10. ^ Moss Klein (1985-09-30). "In one of his most bruising bouts, Yankee manager Billy – 09.30.85 – SI Vault". Sports Illustrated. Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  11. ^ "Billy Martin". Baseball Reference. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved February 11, 2015. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Star-Ledger file photo. "George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin on Hall of Fame veterans committee ballot". Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  14. ^ Bloom, Barry M. (December 6, 2010). "Gillick newest member of Hall of Fame". Retrieved December 6, 2010. 
  15. ^ "SNL Transcript, 24 May 1986". 1986-05-24. Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  16. ^ a b Scott, Ronald B. (1977-05-23). "Billy Martin Could Be One of the Great Yankee Managers—if He Can Keep His Temper and His Job". Retrieved 2011-10-04. 
  17. ^ Amy Wilson (March 13, 1988). "Mrs. Billy: Wife In The Big Leagues". Sun-Sentinel. 
  18. ^ — Kathryn Williams. "Billy Martin's – – Upper East Side – New York Store & Shopping Guide". Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  19. ^ "Billy Martin's Western Store To the Stars Closes on Upper East Side – Upper East Side & Roosevelt Island – New York". 2011-03-10. Archived from the original on 2014-03-30. Retrieved 2013-10-07. 
  20. ^ Chass, Murray (1989-12-26). "Billy Martin of the Yankees Killed in Crash on Icy Road". New York Times. p. A1. Retrieved 2011-07-21. 
  21. ^ Murray Chass (December 30, 1989). "Mourners Pack Cathedral for Martin's Funeral". The New York Times. 
Further reading
  • The Golden Game: The Story of California Baseball, by Kevin Nelson, California Historical Society Press, San Francisco (2004), pp. 242–254.
  • McKelvey, G. Richard (2004). All bat, no glove: a history of the designated hitter. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company. pp. 180–181. ISBN 0-7864-1944-X. Retrieved 2011-09-28. 
  • Pennington, Bill (2015). Billy Martin, Baseball's Flawed Genius. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. ASIN 0544022092. ISBN 0544022092. 

External links

  • Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference, or Fangraphs, or The Baseball Cube
  • Billy Martin managerial career statistics at
  • Baseball Hall of Fame – 2008 Veterans Committee candidate profile
  • Baseball Hall of Fame – 2007 Veterans Committee candidate profile at the Wayback Machine (archived April 20, 2007)
  • N.Y. Times Obituary for Billy Martin
  • Billy Martin at Find a Grave
  • "The Bronx Is Burning ESPN miniseries". Archived from the original on 2007-07-01. Retrieved 2007-08-25. 
Sporting positions
Preceded by
Floyd Baker
Minnesota Twins third base coach
Succeeded by
Johnny Goryl
Preceded by
Carroll Hardy
Denver Bears manager
May 27–September 8
Succeeded by
Don Heffner
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