Associated PressBilly Martin and Reggie Jackson soak in their World Series victory in 1977.The last time I saw Billy Martin was in early December of 1989, during the winter meetings in Nashville. He was there in his role as a Yankees special adviser, which kept him on the payroll and within easy reach of George Steinbrenner’s whims. And when I wanted to find him I knew where to look — at one of the bars scattered throughout the sprawling Opryland Hotel.
The rumor was already making the rounds that Steinbrenner, unhappy with manager Bucky Dent, who had replaced Dallas Green in mid-August, had talked to Martin about coming back to manage yet again. Martin grinned each time I asked him — a giveaway sign — and others confirmed that plans for Billy VI were in the works, although Dent would likely get the chance to start the season with Martin in his perpetual on-deck spot.
Less than three weeks later, Martin was dead.
He died at the age of 61 on Christmas night, 20 years ago today, about one hour after the pickup truck he was in with longtime pal Bill Reedy skidded on an icy road and crashed near Martin’s farm in Fenton, N.Y., near Binghamton. They had been drinking, and neither was wearing a seat belt. Reedy, who passed away earlier this year, initially claimed to be the driver, but later said Martin had been the driver and that he had lied at the scene to protect him.
I was home, with the TV on and the volume down at about 8 o’clock that night, and saw an inset photo of Martin on the screen. What now, I wondered. As I turned the volume up and heard words about an accident, the phone rang, the office calling to alert me. Martin was reported to be seriously injured, and shortly after that the word came that he had died.
I started gathering information and reaching out to the Yankees closest to Martin. As I worked on the story, a strange thought occurred to me — as stunning as the development was, I wasn’t completely surprised.
Somehow, I always felt that Martin, probably the most intriguing and fascinating character I covered during my 17 years on the Yankees beat, was destined to have a sudden and shocking end. Martin, indeed, went through life without a seat belt, always inviting trouble and tempting fate.
As a manager, he could usually figure out a way to win. But sadly, he could never figure out how to manage himself.
*** I met Billy Martin near the end of spring training in 1976, when I reported to Fort Lauderdale to start covering the Yankees with only a week left in camp. I knew it was essential to make myself known to Martin, even though I was a little apprehensive about dealing with him — well aware of his reputation for being uncooperative and intimidating to reporters, and certainly aware of the fight-filled reputation he had as a player and manager.
I waited until the other reporters left his small office, steeled myself, and went in, introducing myself. He was sitting in his swivel chair, his feet up on his desk, and probably sensing that I was nervous, he asked about me. He didn’t seem intimidating at all. He asked me if I had questions about the team and the first thing I thought of was the shortstop situation, since the uninspiring competition between Fred Stanley and Jim Mason hadn’t been resolved.
“Good question,” he said, “and since I just made up my mind today and you’re the only one who asked, I’ll give you the story. I’m going to platoon them. That’s not something I would ordinarily do with shortstops, I’d rather have an everyday guy, but in this case it’s the best way to go. So write it — platoon shortstops — and you’ll be ahead of all the other guys.”
I thanked him for the information and he laughed. “You’ve probably heard some real bad things about me,” he said, “and most of them are probably true. But let’s get something straight right away — you’re new and we’ve got a clean slate. If you’re fair to me, I’ll be fair to you. If you think you need to criticize me, just get my side of things before you do. If somebody bad-mouths me, get my version. Just be fair, and I think we can have a good relationship.”
I left his office totally surprised. I had a good story — an exclusive on my first day — and I felt a sudden rapport with this guy I had heard about since I was a kid and who seemed nothing like the person I expected.
Martin, of course, had his well-documented dark side. He could be nasty and unreasonable and paranoid. He irrationally disliked certain players, and certain people. He couldn’t stand losing, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but he took it to an extreme level. Being manager of the Yankees was more than his dream job; it was an obsession, and he couldn’t tolerate any obstacles.
Most of all, Martin couldn’t stay away from drinking, which gradually ruined his health and his employment, putting him into situations that led to fights and firings.
He was the best in-game manager I ever saw, a brilliant, daring strategist who could win with any type of team, but he was the quick-fix king, his impact usually wearing off as his intensity skyrocketed. The bottom line is one World Series championship in 16 seasons as a manager.
*** But the Billy Martin I’ll remember was a character, a larger-than-life personality. There was never a shortage of stories when Martin was around, whether it involved Steinbrenner or Reggie Jackson or any number of feuds with managers or executives or players or umpires.
I’ll remember the Billy Martin who some days would sit back in the manager’s office and tell stories about his days as a Yankee player, mostly his escapades with Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford — classic stories, even if they were slightly exaggerated — and the way he beamed and laughed as he told them.
I’ll remember the Billy Martin who would go to extreme lengths to find baseball jobs for ex-players who were down on their luck. And the Billy Martin who couldn’t bring himself to tell fading veterans they were being cut. The tough guy was really a softie at heart.
I’ll remember how he would often talk about his mother — “She’s the real fiery one in the family,” he would say — who in her late 70s still lived in the Oakland area where Martin grew up and drove around talking to late-night truck drivers on her CB radio with the handle “Yankee 1.”
I’ll remember how he had to be prodded into talking about his World Series heroics with the Yankees in the 1950s. He was a star, offensively and defensively at second base in four Series, a .333 hitter with five homers in 28 games, a game-saving catch in the 1952 finale, but never brought it up. “If you have to brag on yourself, you probably weren’t that good,” he said when I asked him about his reluctance to do just that.
I’ll remember the time we went out to dinner in Chicago, a place with entertainment, and the singer invited him to the microphone and Martin did a Sinatra medley. He was a minor-leaguer as a singer, but he gave it quite an effort.
And sitting with him in his office hours before a game and listening to him expound on the Civil War, one of his little-known passions, explaining the strategy of various generals as if he were managing against them. I learned more about the Civil War from Martin than I ever did in school.
Most of all, I’ll remember the sincere pride he took in being a Yankee, in wearing the pinstripes. There were certainly many far greater Yankee players, and several managers who achieved greater success, but there was never a prouder Yankee than Billy Martin.
Moss Klein was the Yankees beat writer for The Star-Ledger from 1976 through ’92, covering all five of Martin’s managerial stints.
"Never seen a payroll on a ring" "Leave the gun, take the cannoli "
Yankees Former player and Manager Billy Martin killed in Auto Accident
December 25, 1989- Billy Martin, an AL All-Star INF with the Yankees (1950-1957) and former MLB manager of the Twins, Tigers, Rangers, Yankees and A’s, dies in a truck accident in Johnson City, NY, at the age of 61.
Billy Martin, a 5-time Yankees manager under Owner George Steinbrenner, was rumored to be a candidate to replace current Yankees skipper Lou Piniella. During his 18-year managerial career in the AL, Martin posted a 1253-1013 record, led his teams to 5-AL Championship titles and guided the New York Yankees to the 1977 World Championship. He will be buried in Gate of Heaven Cemetery in Westchester, NY, in a plot near Babe Ruth. Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who had fired Billy Martin four times (he resigned the 5th time) purchases the burial plot for Billy Martin.
Billy Martin and Mickey Mantle during early 1950's
Remembering the Yankees "Super Chief," starter Allie Reynolds
December 26, 1994- Former Yankees AL All Star pitcher Allie “Super Chief “Reynolds (1947-1954) passed away.
On October 19, 1946, Allie was obtained from the Indians for former AL MVP winner 2B Joe “Flash” Gordon. He went 19-8, with a .704 WP for the 1947 Yankees. He was one of the mainstays of the Yankee starting rotation that won 5 straight World Championships (1949-1953) along with Eddie Lopat, Vic Raschi, later Whitey Ford. His Yankees World Series pitching record was 7-2. Allie went 131-60 in 8 seasons with the Yankees, including a 20-8 record with an ERA 2.06 in 1952. During the 1951 AL season, he pitched 2-no-hitters, including one against the Red Sox. A back injury during a Yankees team bus accident in Baltimore during the 1954 AL season forced Allie to retire at the end of the AL season. He later became the Baseball Commissioner of the American Association (AAA).