New York Yankees’ fans called him “Billy the Kid.” Like the outlaw, Billy Martin knew how to get a job done. He did it his way, and he didn’t care who liked the way he did it. And his love for the Yankees was unquestioned.
“Sometimes I would do just the opposite of what George (Steinbrenner) wanted me to do, he said in his book “Number 1″ in 1980. “Because I won’t let anyone tell me how to manage. If I’m going down the tube, I’m going to do it my way.”
Martin was loved by Yankees fans, hated by some opposing fans, but respected by all.
“Billy was a true Yankee-one of the truest ever,” Bucky Dent said. “He always said he wanted to die a Yankee. He was his own man. He was fiery and could be charming. He was a great manager.”
Perhaps the greatest evidence of this came on June 18, 1977 in a game against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park. Jim Rice of Boston blooped a hit into the outfield. Reggie Jackson retrieved the ball and threw it back to the infield. But not quick enough, as Rice hustled into second base.
Martin was so infuriated that he called time out and sent Paul Blair in to replace Jackson, right in the middle of the inning! Of course, Jackson didn’t appreciate Martin’s move, especially in a nationally televised game. The resulting confrontation between them in the dugout escalated, and coaches had to keep them apart to prevent a fist fight.
Martin was never afraid to mix it up. He fought Boston’s Jimmy Piersall in a tunnel beneath the stands. He fought Clint Courtney of St. Louis in 1953. He kicked dirt on the shoes and trousers of many deserving umpires. It was always their own fault. Had they gotten the call right, they wouldn’t have suffered Martin’s wrath.
His night life escapades with Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford are well documented. But his savvy and dependability as a player are sometimes overlooked. Perhaps most noteworthy was a spectacular game-saving catch he made against the Brooklyn Dodgers in game seven of the 1952 World Series.
For his career, he was an all-star in 1956 and a five-time World Series champion. The Yankees have retired his number one.
Martin left us in a traffic accident on an icy road near Binghamton, New York in 1989. But his legend, the legend of Billy the Kid, lives on.