Today I wanna write about Billy Martin

Last night my roomate and I watched the initial episode of The Bronx is Burning, the made for television ESPN series movie about the 1977 Yankees. The character that I enjoyed the most thus far, was the manager of the Yankees, Billy Martin. This guy is filled with so much rich baseball history it’s not even funny. He played with the likes of Dimaggio, Mantle, Berra, and managed Thurman Munson, Reggie Jackson, Lou Piniella. He connects the dots of Yankee Legends from one generation to the next, all while living a very documented hard lifestyle.

Martin was just your typical old school ballplayer. He was in the mold of the guy who would, drink your beer, kick your ass, then get with your girl type guy. He fueled much hatred for Yankee haters I’m sure. I’m also sure he was as loved in yankee lore as any man in history. Despite being an average ballplayer (career .252 hitter), Martin had the intangibles that brought him fame and mystique of the Mantles, Ruths, and Dimaggios. He had a knack for hitting in the clutch as he did in 28 World Series games, compiling a .333 career average. He also had a knack to make a ballclub win quick and fast. I’d love it if a Billy Martin could come into the Cincinnati Reds and turn them around quickly. Due to his drinking, he never stayed anywhere long.

Upon retiring he spoke the famous words that rest on his epitaph to this day.

“I may not have been the greatest Yankee to put on the uniform but I was the proudest.”

Martin knew his place in baseball and Yankees history. He knew his ‘role’. He knew what he was good at and what he was not as a player and manager and maximized his talents. He was a guy who would stick up for a teammate and a friend, never shying away from a fight. There is a reason that #1 is forever retired in Yankee history, and as I watched the show on ESPN last night I also thought to myself, there is a serious reason why George Steinbrenner re-hired this guy 4 times. Steinbrenner said that in his finest moments, Martin was nothing short of a baseball genuis, and I believe it, one of the very best.

Of the many legends I would love to hang with, I can honestly say that I’d love it if I could have one night out on the town with Billy Martin. I would pick through his brain as if I was doing so with a fine-toothed comb. I would ask him different perspectives and opinions about what he thought about the game’s past and the game’s present. Where the game has come from and where it’s going. I’d soak it all in and try and learn just a fraction of the knowledge this guy had about the game I love. I wouldn’t be doing much hell raising, I’d leave that up to Billy. If I had to guess right now I bet him and the Mick are up in Heaven talking about the game they just played over a few cold strohs, or Jack Daniels.

They say it’s better to burn out then to slowly fade away, and Billy Martin’s in life paralelled that statement exactly. It is no surprise that such a talent and intriguing figure, was sent to the grave in an incident that involved something he did so frequently. When Martin was killed on Christmas Day in 1989, he was once again hired to be the manager of the Yankees in 1990 and was working on assembling a staff for the upcoming season. Without a doubt, he was gone too soon. An amazing talent and knowledge of the great game, wasted by the drug of choice in which he and so many of his peers valued so much.

I kept saying to my buddies and former teammates that I watched the opening episode with last night that “Martin seems like a guy we’d love to hang out with”. They quickly agreed. John Turturro does a great job of playing Martin, casting as the guy who wouldn’t eat anyone’s shit, and knew how to have a good time.

A couple examples of Martin’s exploits:

  • 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.
  • In a beer commercial in which Steinbrenner tells Martin “You’re fired!” to which Martin replies “Oh, no, not again!” After Martin’s real-life firing and rehiring, the commercial was resurrected, only with Steinbrenner’s line redubbed to say “You’re hired!”
  • Despite their father-son relationship, Martin and Stengel didn’t speak for years because Martin blamed his manager for failing to prevent his trade to Kansas City in 1957.
  • Remembered for being a bad influence on Mickey Mantle in the 1950s, was right in the middle of an imfamous “Copa Cabana” incident/hurang that eventually lead to Billy being traded to Kansas City right after, because he was getting the team’s stars too fucked up.
  • During the infamous “Pine Tar Game”, in which Kansas City Royals lifer George Brett hit a HR off Goose, when the game was played under protest, Billy made all the players switch positions, even having LHP Ron Guidry play the OF.
  • He kicked all the kids out of the dugout back in the day, the most famous of which was Cincy’s Ken Griffey, Jr, who later on as a player vowed he’d never play in NYC, not even with the Mets.
  • When Bucky Dent hit the homerun that helped the Red Sox win the pennant, guess who is famous for saying Bucky “Bleepin” Dent. You guessed it, our man William.

We’d also guess that he was a hogger, and would have just been great to go on a fishing trip with. He’d always buy the beer and tell the best jokes. You’d have to watch your girl around him, but at the same time there should be no worries, he’d never steal her from you.

Billy Martin–“#1 forever” as it says on his gravestone. Without ever knowing him, we see how that could be said.