May 16th, 2014

May 16 – Happy Birthday Billy Martin

martinI never was a big fan of Billy Martin. I was too young to remember his playing days with the Yankees in the fifties. When he started managing in the American League, first for the Twins in 1969 and then the Tigers in 1971, I remember trying to learn more about him. Everything I read seemed to indicate he had a great will to win, a strong knowledge of the game but an extremely bad temper. This helped explain why he was fired from his first three managerial positions even after he helped turn losing teams into winners.

When George Steinbrenner became managing partner of the Yankees the perfect storm necessary to bring these two unpredictable forces together in the Bronx had been formed. In the beginning, it worked marvelously. The Yankees got back to the World Series and fans filled the Stadium like never before. It didn’t last long, however. Martin’s dependence on alcohol worsened under the pressure of Steinbrenner’s meddling and the glare of the New York media. Once these fault lines became public during and after the 1977 season, Martin would never again be able to command the respect or support of his players necessary to lead them to championships.

As more and more Yankees and ex-Yankees began talking and writing about their experiences while playing for Martin, a clearer picture of his addiction to alcohol, his emotional insecurity, and his inhumane behavior emerged. What respect I had for his past achievements was quickly replaced by pity for what he had become.

Having written all this it is only fair to point out that there are many people who knew Martin personally and who played with him and for him on a baseball field who loved and deeply respected the guy. My opinions of him were formed from the far-away focus of a typical baseball fan.

He died on Christmas day in 1989 when his truck was driven into a ditch by a friend who was allegedly driving intoxicated at the time of the accident. It has also been reported that the driver and Martin had been drinking all day. May he now be resting in peace.

During his final season as Yankee skipper in 1989, Martin had this right-handed veteran starter who shares his May 16th birthday, on his pitching staff. Martin was not the Yankee manager when this other May 16th born right-hander pitched in pinstripes, during the 1981 season. This former Yankee reliever was also born on that day.

Martin’s record as a Yankee player:

Year Tm G PA AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI SB BB SO BA OBP SLG OPS
1950 NYY 34 39 36 10 9 1 0 1 8 0 3 3 .250 .308 .361 .669
1951 NYY 51 65 58 10 15 1 2 0 2 0 4 9 .259 .328 .345 .673
1952 NYY 109 401 363 32 97 13 3 3 33 3 22 31 .267 .323 .344 .668
1953 NYY 149 644 587 72 151 24 6 15 75 6 43 56 .257 .314 .395 .710
1954 Did not play in major leagues (Military Service)
1955 NYY 20 80 70 8 21 2 0 1 9 1 7 9 .300 .354 .371 .726
1956 NYY 121 504 458 76 121 24 5 9 49 7 30 56 .264 .310 .397 .708
1957 NYY 43 154 145 12 35 5 2 1 12 2 3 14 .241 .257 .324 .581
11 Yrs 1021 3716 3419 425 877 137 28 64 333 34 188 355 .257 .300 .369 .669
NYY (7 yrs) 527 1887 1717 220 449 70 18 30 188 19 112 178 .262 .313 .376 .688
MIN (1 yr) 108 398 374 44 92 15 5 6 36 3 13 42 .246 .275 .361 .636
MLN (1 yr) 6 6 6 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 1 .000 .000 .000 .000
KCA (1 yr) 73 285 265 33 68 9 3 9 27 7 12 20 .257 .295 .415 .710
CIN (1 yr) 103 346 317 34 78 17 1 3 16 0 27 34 .246 .304 .334 .639
CLE (1 yr) 73 258 242 37 63 7 0 9 24 0 8 18 .260 .290 .401 .691
DET (1 yr) 131 536 498 56 127 19 1 7 42 5 16 62 .255 .279 .339 .619
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2013.

Martin’s record as a Yankee manager:

Rk Year Age Tm Lg G W L W-L% Finish
8 1975 47 New York Yankees AL 2nd of 2 56 30 26 .536 3
9 1976 48 New York Yankees AL 159 97 62 .610 1 AL Pennant
10 1977 49 New York Yankees AL 162 100 62 .617 1 WS Champs
11 1978 50 New York Yankees AL 1st of 3 94 52 42 .553 1
12 1979 51 New York Yankees AL 2nd of 2 95 55 40 .579 4
17 1983 55 New York Yankees AL 162 91 71 .562 3
18 1985 57 New York Yankees AL 2nd of 2 145 91 54 .628 2
19 1988 60 New York Yankees AL 1st of 2 68 40 28 .588 5
Minnesota Twins 1 year 162 97 65 .599 1.0
Detroit Tigers 3 years 452 248 204 .549 2.0
Texas Rangers 3 years 279 137 141 .493 3.7
Oakland Athletics 3 years 433 215 218 .497 2.5
New York Yankees 8 years 941 556 385 .591 2.5 2 Pennants and 1 World Series Title
16 years 2267 1253 1013 .553 2.5 2 Pennants and 1 World Series Title
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 5/15/2013.