What Billy Martin lacked in playing ability, he made up for in sheer will. Standing nearly 6 feet tall with only 165 pounds on his frame, the scrappy 2nd baseman proved his worth again and again on the playing field helping the Yankees to four World Championships, one for each full season he spent in their uniform. It was only after his playing days ended, however, that Martin truly made his mark on the game, achieving immortality as one of the great Managers of his time. Through all, his reputation as a loose cannon with a nearly uncontrollable temper preceded him.
Alfred Manuel Martin was born on May 16, 1928 in Berkeley, California to mother Jenny who was left single when his father, for whom he is named, proved so hard to deal with that she threw him out before Billy was born. He did not have an encounter with the elder Alfred Emanuel for some 15 years and it proved to be his last. Billy, as he would later come to be known, wanted nothing to do with him. A tough and aggressive street kid, Martin discovered baseball in sandlots around Berkeley and it is written that he was playing before the age of 10. Although it cannot be said with certainty, it is believe that he was nicknamed ?The Brat? and then ?Billy the Kid? (after the infamous outlaw) by teammates for his incessant arguing with umpires. The name ?Billy? stuck and he carried it from grade school through the rest of his life.
After graduating high school in 1946 Martin began playing professional baseball for the Idaho Falls of the class D Pioneer League. By late 1947 he was showing proficiency for the game and joined the more notable Oakland Oaks where he first met Manager Casey Stengel. Stengel took the young Martin under his wing providing him with guidance both on the field and off where he stepped in as the father figure that Billy never had. In 1949 when Casey began managing the New York Yankees, he pressed the front office to take a look at Billy and before the 1950 season he was playing for an affiliate of the team.
In 1950 he made his Big League debut hitting .250 for the club in 34 games. He played another shortened season in 1951 putting up comparable numbers and making an appearance in that year World Series on behalf of his new team. In 1952 he took over the Yankees second baseman?s job full time when team regular Jerry Coleman was drafted into service for the war in Korea. Any young ball player would have been elated to finally make a regular season roster but Billy, upon learning he was to hit 8th in the lineup, ranted to Casey Stengel about how his talents were wasted and demanded to bat third. It was also during the 52 season that Martin got into the first of several publicized fights. After exchanging words, he and Jimmy Peirsall threw fists under the stands in Fenway Park.
1953 was his breakout year when he put up career high numbers in hits, doubles, and triples, proving Stengel right and ensuring him a place on the team?s roster. He was voted the Most Valuable Player in the 53 World Series after hitting .500 and knocking in a clinch hit in bottom of the ninth in game six to win the series. Not one to let a season go by with out some sort of controversy, Billy got into it with Clint Courtney of the St Louis Browns after an on field collision that left Phil Rizzuto on his back. It was in these early years that he forged a friendship with Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford and the trio became the toast of New York nightlife often drinking and carousing to all hours of the morning.
The 1954 season was missed due to military service (coincidentally, it was the only year between 1951 and 56, the Yankees did not make a World Series appearance) and he rejoined the team for another shortened season in 1955. Despite a spectacular showing in that now famous Fall Classic by Billy, the Yankees finally lost to their cross-town rivals. In 1956 he achieved career high numbers in both homeruns and RBIs, which were good enough to earn his a spot on that years All-Star team. Once again the Yanks made it to post season and won another World Championship.
On the evening of May 19, 1957, shortly after that season had begun, Billy and his pals from the Yankees met up at their favorite New York hangout, the Copacabana. Hank Bauer, one of the clubs outfielders, got into it with a customer of the Copa and the team became embroiled in a now famous brawl. Although it was not Martin who threw the fist punch General Manager George Weiss blamed him for the incident and despite the protests of Casey Stengel, traded him to Kansas City. Martin, who did not believe that Casey had done enough to prevent the move, did not speak to him for years after the trade.
He played out the rest of his days with several different team including the Kansas City Athletics, Detroit Tigers, Cleveland Indians, and Milwaukee Braves. Always up to his old tendencies, Martin is reputed to have fought Clint Courtney (again), Matt Batts, and Tommy Lasorda in that time. One of his most notorious incidents occurred while with the Reds in 1960. Thinking that Cub pitcher Jim Brewer was intentionally throwing inside Billy and he exchanged a few words, which lead to a punch from Martin and a fractured bone near Brewers eye socket. A lawsuit was brought by Brewer and the Chicago Cubs, for whom he was pitching, in which a judge ultimately levied a $100,000 judgment (Martin lost).
1961 was his last season as a player and he was picked up by the Twins as a coach and later managed a Triple-A ball club. In 1969 he got his break in managing in the Big Leagues with the Minnesota Twins. Despite leading that team to their best record in years he was let go and once again it was his temper to blame. After a disagreement with one of his own pitchers, that unfortunate victim (Dave Boswell) landed up in the hospital requiring 20 stitches to fix the damage inflicted by Martin.
The Detroit Tigers organization was the next to put Billy in charge and he outperformed his predecessor, taking the team to 2nd place in 1971 and all the way to the ALCS in 72. He Jumped ship to the Texas Rangers late in 1973 and in 1974 lead them to a 2nd place finish for which he was awarded Manager of The Year honors. Despite his winning ways, Martin seemed unable to find a good fit with the higher ups in any organization.
In 1975 he joined the New York Yankees under new owner George Steinbrenner. The next season, 1976, the Yankees won an American League Pennant and Martin was being touted as the best Manager in the game. Despite the much improved record Steinbrenner felt that the team needed more and signed Reggie Jackson off the free agent market much to the dismay of Martin. As the old saying goes ?This town ain?t big enough for the both of us? and New York certainly was not big enough for two egos like Martin and Jackson. They were constantly feuding and all came to a head on June 18, 1977. Martin, it seems, felt as though Jackson was lacking the hustle needed to win a Big League game. Upon returning to the dugout after a particularly poor play the two traded words on National television and came so close to physical contact that coaches Elston Howard, Yogi Berra, and Dick Howser stepped in to separate them.
Despite the constant rift between the two the Yankees managed to win a World Championship in 1977 and another in 78. It was also during the 78 season that Martin was forced to resign (for the first time) after calling George Steinbrenner a liar during a press conference. He returned the next season only to ?resign? again after late in the season after an altercation with marshmallow salesman Joseph Cooper.
Next stop along the way was Oakland where he preached what has come to be known as ?Billy Ball.? The new style emphasized the importance of hustle. Players were expect to go all in when rounding the bases and give up themselves when at bat in order to advance a teammate. The team improved from 7th place to 2nd and then on to division title in 1981. When performance slipped in 1982 Martin was let go.
He was picked up by the Yankees again in 1983 and was subsequently hired and fired by the team another 3 times. The end came in 1988 when he was let go for yet another nightclub brawl. On Christmas Day of 1989 he was traveling as passenger with a friend when the car crashed killing Martin at the age of 61. In the years since there has been much speculation that it may have been Martin behind the wheel and a cover-up was launched to protect what little dignity was left in his name. Upon his death the marquee at Yankee Stadium read ?Billy Martin Always Number 1?, and that jersey number was retired in his honor.
Typically signing ?Billy Martin?, his signature is a free flowing example with few pen lifts. Early examples tend to be rather diminutive in size, however formation remains much the same as that employed later in life. The ?B? can take on one of two appearances. The first is that of a backwards ?3?, the second is similar with the only difference being that the initial stroke begins at the baseline, rather than at the apex of the letter. The remainder of the first name, ?illy?, is formed in one continuous stroke of the pen with a well-defined ?ill.? The ?y? is typically not well formed and looks more like a continuation of the terminal stroke of the second ?l.? Usually, the entire first name will show no pen lifts however occasionally, the ?B? will be separated.
The ?M? in Martin shows variance in size however typically; it will display the same height as the ?B? in Billy, although occasionally it is smaller. The remainder of the last name is well formed with one continuous stroke showing no pen lift. In haste, Martin often left the ?n? out of his last name, bringing the terminal stroke of the ?i? around to cross the ?t.? In later years the last name would often elevate slightly off the base line giving the feel that was walking up stairs.
There are a good number of highly suspect Martin signatures in circulation that are outstanding in appearance. In some cases the only tip-off that the autograph is not an authentic version is that it appears on a baseball produced after his death in 1989. Another area that should be of great concern to the collector is his signature on team signed baseballs. Many are clubhouse in nature and the value that these treasures can hold is greatly effected by its? legitimacy. Remember, most of those years with the Yankees, as both player and manager were Championship seasons.
Martin?s signature is readily available and collectors should have no trouble in acquiring a nice example. He was a more than willing signer in person however mail requests often got a mixed response. For obvious reasons he would have been a big draw in the early days of autograph guests and appeared at several card shows and participated in a few private signings. A nice cut can be had for around $50 and a 3×5 will run about $100. Government postcards from his playing days would be considered the most desirable of the small sized flats and a price tag of $150-175 should be considered fair. Signed gum cards carry a wide range in value from as low as $50 for 1980s examples all the way up to $500+ for the most desirable vintage pieces. Signed images of Martin are readily available affording the collector a nice variety to choose from. Magazine and/or yearbook pages can sell for a little as $100 while 8×10 photographs can fetch $200-300. Single signed baseballs are gaining momentum and one should expect to pay around $400-500 retail for a quality example. There are signed checks available, which typically sell in the $150-200 range, which is a bargain in the opinion of this writer. Signed letters, handwritten or typed, are not all too common and I would suspect that, based on content, they could sell for as little as $300. With the appropriate subject matter I figure the right buyer could pay as much as $750-$1000. One of the most readily available items signed by Martin is a book. He wrote several and participated in signings for each. Expect to pay around $200 for a nice example. Many times these carry the bonus of an inscription of ?Best Wishes? and/or ?Yankees.?