16 May marks the birthday of baseball legend Billy Martin in 1928 in Berkeley, California.
Martin was raised in a poor family of Italian and Portuguese ancestry. Martin would often describe the toughness he had to develop to survive on the streets among his playmates in the shantytowns of the Bay Area.
After graduating high school in 1946, he began playing in the Class D Pioneer League. He reached the major leagues in 1950.
He managed the Yankees five times, a major league record for a single team and also served as manager of the Minnesota Twins (1969), the Detroit Tigers (1971-73), the Texas Rangers (1973-75) and the Oakland Athletics (1980-82). Martin won the World Series with the Yankees in 1977, the American League pennant with the Yankees in 1976 and division titles with Minnesota in 1969, Detroit in 1972 and Oakland in 1981. Hall of Fame Manager Tony La Russa called him, “the most brilliant field manager I ever saw.”
A popular figure with players and fans alike, the New York Times described Martin’s style of baseball as “peppery”. Martin was known to get into fistfights (once knocking a player out cold) and as a manager he more than once kicked dirt on an umpire, a practice one reported termed, “the Billy Martin shoeshine”.
Martin’s on-again, off-again relationship with NY Yankees owner George Steinbrenner was well-known, Steinbrenner having fired and re-hired Martin numerous times. The relationship was parodied in a television commercial for Miller’s ‘Lite’ beer in which the two disagree if Miller is popular because it is “less filling” or “tastes great”, at the end of the ad Steinbrenner fires Martin to which Martin laments, “not again!”
Billy Martin summed up his own career this way, “I may not have been the greatest Yankee to ever put on the uniform, but I was the proudest”. He died in a car accident in 1989.