Tuesday, January 11, 2005
Billy Martin Hired As Yankees' Manager
This was Billy’s third go-round with the Yankees (he’d have five altogether), and marked a return to the Stadium where he had been both manager and player previously. Martin was, like many managers, a mediocre player but probably the best manager at turning a team around, even if he couldn’t always sustain that success. Martin was first hired to manage the Minnesota Twins in 1969. Taking over a team that had gone 79-83 and finished 7th under Cal Ermer the season before, Martin went 97-65 and won the AL West, falling to the Baltimore Orioles 3-0 in the ALCS, losing the first two games in extra innings before being blown out in game 3. Despite his success, Martin was fired after the season, partially for ignoring owner Calvin Griffith but mostly for having punched out Twins’ pitcher Dave Boswell.
Martin was next hired in 1971 to take over yet another team that had gone 79-83 the previous season, the Detroit Tigers. The Tigers improved under Martin to 91-71 and finished second in the AL East. The next season, the Tigers dropped to 86-70 but nonetheless won the division by a half-game over the Red Sox, passing
Martin was not unemployed for long. He was fired on August 30th by the Tigers and hired by the Texas Rangers to replace Whitey Herzog on September 8th. Martin led the Rangers to just a 9-14 (.391) record finishing the season, although that was actually an improvement on their 48-91 (.345) record prior to Martin. The next season, taking much of the same 100+ loss roster, Martin went 84-76 and put the team in second place. He was fired the next season, going just 44-51, his first significant stretch under .500.
Martin was again not out of work for long, being fired by the Rangers on July 20th and hired by George Steinbrenner on August 2nd, replacing Bill Virdon and improving the Yankees’ winning percentage more than twenty-five points in their final fifty games. In 1976, he took the Yankees to their first World Series since 1964 (and Martin’s first ever career post-season series victory in the ’76 ALCS over
Martin soon found work, taking over another terrible team, the
Not put off by this, Steinbrenner nonetheless re-hired his former manager, and Martin led a team that had finished 79-83 (seemingly the record of every team Martin took over) to a 91 win season, but just third place. Steinbrenner fired Martin for Yogi Berra for all of 1984 but dissatisfied with Berra he fired him after just sixteen games in 1985 (an event that would have long-lasting consequences for Yogi and the Boss) and installed Martin. Martin took over a 6-10 team and went 91-54 (.628) his best winning percentage ever, but the 97 win Yankees still fell two games short of the playoffs. Martin would manage the Yankees one more time for a 68 game stretch in 1988, going 40-28 for a team that played below .500 without him at the helm.
He was working as a special consultant for the Yankees when he was killed in a car accident on Christmas Day, 1989, at age 61. The driver of the pick-up truck Martin was in was drunk and (like Martin) not wearing his seat belt, but survived anyway. Martin’s #1 was retired by the Yankees the next season. This remains one of his few honors, despite obviously qualifications—he has a better career winning percentage than Sparky Anderson, Tommy Lasorda or Joe Torre—he has not been voted into the Hall of Fame, easily its most glaring omission with regards to managers.