Baseball Wiki
Billy Martin

A photo of Billy Martin.

Alfred Manuel "Billy" Martin, Jr. (May 16 1928December 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 1976 and 1977; 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.

Early life[]

Martin was born to Joan and Alfred Martin in Berkeley, California. His father was of Portuguese ancestry.[1] Martin was raised by his mother, who doted on her son, frequently calling him "bello," or "beautiful" in Italian. This was the origin of his nickname "Billy."

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.

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 played for Idaho Falls in the Class D Pioneer League, hitting .254 in 32 games. Late in the 1947 season, he was signed to the Oaks, playing for that team in 1948 and 1949. In 1948, Martin's manager was Casey Stengel, who admired his aggressive play. When Stengel became manager in New York, he had the Yankees obtain Martin.

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.

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 MVP of the 1953 World Series, as he batted .500 with a .958 slugging percentage. Martin was an All-Star in 1956. In 1958, Martin led the league in sacrifice hits, with 13.

After his 1957 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.

Martin retired in 1961 with a career batting average of .257. He hit .333 in 28 World Series games for the Yankees.


Martin was well known for drinking to excess and for rowdy behavior when drinking. In 1957, a group of Yankees met at the famous Copacabana nightclub to celebrate Martin's 29th birthday; the party ultimately erupted into a much publicized brawl. A month later, General manager George Weiss—believing Martin's nightlife was a bad influence on teammates Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle—exiled him to Kansas City. Martin felt betrayed by Stengel, with whom he had a strong father-son relationship, for failing to prevent the trade, and the two did not speak for years.

On August 4, 1960, 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 1969, 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?"

Martin's fights as a player also included bouts with Jimmy Piersall, Clint Courtney (twice), Matt Batts and Tommy Lasorda.

Managing career[]

Martin was the perfect short-term manager as his competitive fire and daring tactics won over fans, management, and players. This love affair was always brief—especially with the players and management—as his disdain for authority as well as players who dared disagree with him or did not reflect his fiery temperament, were bound to create clubhouse tension and organizational turmoil.

Minnesota Twins[]

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. 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.

Detroit Tigers[]

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, 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."

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.

First stint with the Yankees[]

Martin was hired as Yankees' manager in 1975, and took the Yankees to the World Series in 1976 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 in mid-inning for failing to hustle on a ball hit to the outfield. 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.

After a 1978 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 1980 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.

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 tragic 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 his now-infamous 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.

Oakland Athletics[]

Martin 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 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 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.

On September 22, 1985, Martin fought one of his pitchers, Ed Whitson, who broke one of Martin's arms.

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.

Other altercations as manager[]

Martin's sparring opponents as a manager also included two traveling secretaries (Minnesota's Howard Fox and Texas' Burt Hawkins) in a fight outside of Howard Wong's in Bloomington, Minnesota; Jack Sears, a fan outside Tiger Stadium; a Chicago cab driver who preferred soccer to baseball; sportswriter Ray Hagar, in a Reno casino; marshmallow salesman Joseph Cooper; two bar patrons, in Anaheim and in Baltimore; and two bouncers in an Arlington topless bar.

Unconventional thinking[]

During his short stint with the Minnesota Twins in 1969, he taught Rod Carew how to steal home plate during spring training resulting in seven of his 19 stolen bases that season being of home plate.[2]

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. [3]

Sometimes he would literally draw a lineup out of a hat if the team was struggling to win such as on April 21st, 1977[4] [5]with the Yankees and August 13th, 1972[6] [7] 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.[8][9]

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[10]. 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.[11]

On July 24, 1983, in the Pine Tar Game, later concluded on August 18, 1983, 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. [12][13]

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. [14][15]

Honors and references[]

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 WWE's WrestleMania pay-per-views. Martin's appearance at the inaugural event was referenced at WrestleMania X in 1994.


Billy Martin's number 1 was retired by the New York Yankees in 1986

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."

As a tribute, the Florida Marlins called their mascot Billy the Marlin. (The name is also derived from the fact that another name for a marlin is a bill-fish.)

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 than 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.[16] (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."

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.

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.


File:Billy Martin best 800.jpg

Billy Martin's grave in Cemetery of the Gate of Heaven.

Martin was working as a special consultant to Steinbrenner when he was killed in a one-car crash in Binghamton, New York, on Christmas Day in 1989. Martin had been drinking heavily with his friend, William Reedy, who was driving the pick-up at the time of the accident. When Martin was killed, the media reported that he was a passenger in his pickup truck. However, Peter Golenbock, in his book Wild, High, and Tight: The Life and Death of Billy Martin, makes the case that Martin was the driver and that his wife and Reedy covered up the truth. According to the HBO TV series Autopsy, [17] forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden performed the autopsy on Martin and investigated the accident scene, including the pick-up truck in which Martin died. The autopsy revealed that Martin's impact injuries were all on the right side, and that hair and other DNA found on the right side of the shattered windshield belonged to Martin, who was not wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident. The conclusion of the autopsy study was that Reedy drove the pick-up.

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.

See also[]

  • Magazine covers
  • New York Yankees/Managers and ownership
  • Bay Area Sports Hall of Fame


  • The Golden Game: The Story of California Baseball, by Kevin Nelson, California Historical Society Press, San Francisco (2004), pp.242-254.

 External links[]

Preceded by:
Johnny Mize
Babe Ruth Award
Succeeded by:
Dusty Rhodes
Preceded by:
Cal Ermer
Minnesota Twins Manager
Succeeded by:
Bill Rigney
Preceded by:
Mayo Smith
Detroit Tigers Manager
Succeeded by:
Joe Schultz
Preceded by:
Whitey Herzog
Texas Rangers Manager
Succeeded by:
Frank Lucchesi
Preceded by:
Bill Virdon
Bob Lemon
New York Yankees Manager
Succeeded by:
Bob Lemon
Dick Howser
Preceded by:
Jim Marshall
Oakland Athletics Manager
Succeeded by:
Steve Boros
Preceded by:
Charlie Finley
Oakland Athletics General Manager
Succeeded by:
Sandy Alderson
Preceded by:
Clyde King
Yogi Berra
Lou Piniella
New York Yankees Manager
Succeeded by:
Yogi Berra
Lou Piniella
Lou Piniella

Template:TwinsManagers Template:Detroit Tigers managers Template:Texas Rangers managers